Survivors Who Want to Come Forward: Where to Start
Disturbing and triggering news related to sexual violence is almost unavoidable these days. From #MeToo stories in Hollywood, to the news of Bill Cosby’s sentencing, and perhaps most alarmingly, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of not one, or two, but three instances of sexual misconduct or assault — this is an especially hard time for survivors across the nation.
For some survivors who never reported their assaults, seeing the bravery of others has left them wondering what they can do now, if anything.
We know that every survivor’s situation is different, so there is no one best option for everyone. But here are a few legal and non-legal remedies that can serve as starting points.
Here at Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), our legal team works every day to empower survivors to know their rights and options for taking action. ERA attorneys and law clerks provide free information and advice concerning sexual harassment and/or violence you may have experienced at work or school through our Advice and Counseling service, which you can access here.
Every survivor’s situation is different, but we may be able to help you make choices that fit your goals and your own assessment of benefits and risks.
Through the Advice & Counseling service, we can assist you in understanding options including:
- Reporting incidents to your employer or school
- Pursuing your company or school’s sexual harassment complaint process
- Filing a charge with a state or federal agency
- Going to court
For more detailed information about these options, check out our Know Your Rights materials here.
If you have questions about filing a complaint about something that happened at work, you may wish to contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s fair employment practices agency, if it has one. (You can find a list of those agencies here.) In California, the state agency responsible for taking workplace sexual harassment complaints is the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Please know: It may be difficult to seek legal remedies for what happened to you if a lot of time has passed – but it’s not impossible. When dealing with filing claims, it is important to consult with an attorney about the periods for filing these and other claims that you may have because they are different in every state.
For Title VII or workplace discrimination claims, the EEOC lists time limits for filing complaints here.
For time limits that apply to sexual harassment and sexual assault claims against a university or school, End Rape on Campus has information about Title IX, which has a “statute of limitations” section here.
Non-Legal Remedies: Sharing Your Story, Emotional Awareness & Self-Care
Ultimately, the legal system may or may not provide you with an avenue for seeking justice. Legal remedies are not the end-all-be-all of your reality. You do not need a paper trail or other proof for what happened to you to be true. You do not have to report an assault for it to have really happened. You do not need permission to share your story however you want to.
Social media has become an amazing platform for survivors to get support from other survivors, especially as the constant news cycle triggers unresolved pain from the past. Facebook groups, feminist Instagram pages, or even your Twitter account could be the outlet for your voice, or your story that you might not have been ready to share before.
Regardless of whether you decide to bring a legal claim, remember that your emotional well-being matters, too. Telling and re-telling your story is hard and can take an emotional toll. Hearing other survivors share their stories can also trigger emotional flashbacks and symptoms like anxiety, sadness, frustration, and hopelessness. It can feel overwhelming. You may find it helpful to share your story with an empathetic, trauma-informed professional in services like talk therapy and counseling. It may also help to share with other survivors in a group therapy setting.
Whatever you decide, always remember: We believe you. We are so proud of your courage and resilience. The resources you need are out there and ERA is here to help you find them. Because you deserve not just to survive, but to thrive.
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