Your Title IX Rights & What To Do If They’re Violated

Student Survivor Toolkit: Download the PDF

If you are a student survivor of sexual harassment or sexual violence, you have legally protected rights; this means that your school is obligated to do certain things — and is not allowed to do other things — to protect your education and well being. This guide explains some common ways that survivors’ rights may be violated by schools and suggestions for what to do if your own rights are violated.

For our more comprehensive Know Your Rights guide, click here.

1. You have the right to know and understand your school’s sexual misconduct policies.

This means your school’s policies should be located in an accessible place that’s easy for students to find, and it should be easy to understand. The policy should include how to report sexual violence, the procedures for resolving complaints, and potential sanctions.

Your rights may have been violated if:

  • Your school hasn’t published their policies and procedures in an easily accessible place (such as online or in a handbook distributed to all students);
  • Your school’s policies are confusing or vague (e.g. don’t include important details like definitions of misconduct or the steps involved in resolving your complaint).

If you think your rights were violated:

  • Contact your school’s Title IX office to see where the policies are available or ask for clarification on their contents.
  • Request written notice of the investigation and procedures that will be used in your case if you have not received this information.
  • Let your school’s Title IX office know in writing if you have any concerns about the accessibility of their policies or what they mean, or if they failed to give you written notice of the procedures that will be used in your case. Write that you think they could be in violation of Title IX by failing to provide this information in an appropriate manner.

2. You have the right to have your report of sexual misconduct  investigated in a timely and fair manner.

Your rights may have been violated if:

  • Your school fails to respond to your report, or refuses to investigate;
  • Under current Title IX rules, your school’s Title IX office must dismiss some complaints (including incidents that occur off campus or abroad) and may be allowed to dismiss others (such as complaints against someone who is no longer enrolled or employed by the school). Your school can still choose to investigate these complaints through another office, such as a student misconduct office. (See the New Title IX Rules section of this Toolkit for more.)
  • Your school drags out the investigation for significantly longer than the timeframe designated in their policy, or past the point of “reasonable” delay, without good cause;
    • While there is no longer a set legal definition of a “reasonable” delay or timeframe, a delay of more than a month or two before your school takes action on your complaint—especially without explanation—may be enough to establish a violation.
  • Your school doesn’t let you present all relevant evidence, or gives you less of an opportunity to present evidence than the Respondent.
    • Recent federal government regulations significantly restricted the evidence that can be presented in Title IX cases, but thanks to a federal case that ERA and our partners brought, that is no longer the case. You should be able to introduce any relevant evidence at your hearing.

If you think your rights were violated:

  • Request all information about your complaint (including the reason it was dismissed, if applicable) and investigation (including the school’s reason for refusing to grant any request you make) in writing.
  • Ask for a written explanation of any investigation deadlines your school missed, or other delays.
  • Request a written summary of the opportunities you and the Respondent have been provided to submit or review evidence. Object to any unfair opportunities or inequities in writing.

3.  You have the right to resolve (finish, or close) your Title IX matter in the way that feels best for you, and to be fully informed about any resolution. 

Your rights may have been violated if:

  • Your school pressures you into participating in an informal or alternative resolution, or won’t let you return to a formal process if the informal process isn’t working out;
  • Your school forces you to submit a formal complaint, proceed with a formal investigation, or attach your name to a complaint instead of staying anonymous when you don’t want to;
    • If you report the incident but then decide not to file a Title IX complaint, your school may still choose to investigate the incident. In this case, they may contact the person who you reported and ask them about the incident. While the school cannot share your name without your permission, the harasser/assailant may be able to identify you as the person who reported them based on the details of the incident that is being investigated. The school is required under Title IX to protect you from retaliation.
    • Although you have the right to stay anonymous, know that this might limit the school’s ability to investigate or respond to what you experienced.
  • Your school will not provide supportive measures unless you proceed with a formal complaint and investigation;
    • Supportive measures are those designed to support your ability to learn and feel safe without burdening or disciplining the other party, such as changing your housing, providing counseling services, asking your professors to grant extensions on assignments or other coursework adjustments, allowing you to drop a course without consequences on your transcript, etc).
  • Your school won’t tell you if or how the Respondent was sanctioned (punished) after a finding of responsibility.

If you think your rights were violated:

  • Follow up on any in-person or phone conversations where you felt pressured or denied support with an email summarizing what was discussed and your concerns.
  • If your school has a survivor support center or similar resource, reach out to them for help understanding and securing the supportive measures and resolution options that should be available to you.
  • Request, in writing, information about sanctions and how they will be imposed after a finding of responsibility has been made.

4.  You have the right to talk about your experiences with sexual violence and the Title IX process.

Your rights may have been violated if:

  • You are forced to sign a No-Contact Order or other agreement that prohibits you from talking about what you experienced (sometimes known as a gag order);
    • Because new federal Title IX regulations require interim supportive measures to be equally available to both parties, your school might issue a Mutual No-Contact Order. You may need to ask your school to issue a one-way (or Unilateral) no-contact order if you want the Respondent to be prohibited from talking about what happened while the investigation is pending, but don’t want to be subject to the order yourself.
  • Your school tries to prohibit you from talking to other people about the investigation after it’s completed;
    • Your school may ask you to keep Title IX proceedings confidential while they are ongoing. This cannot be used to keep you from talking to potential witnesses or seeking support, and any restrictions should not apply after your case is resolved.

Note: Some survivors are threatened with or subject to a defamation lawsuit for speaking out about their experience of sexual violence, even though they are within their rights to do so. This is a separate legal issue from a Title IX rights violation (except potentially as a form of retaliation — see more below). See the Defamation section of this Toolkit for more. If this is a concern or problem for you, we recommend speaking with a lawyer who practices defamation law; contact ERA or a local Bar association for referrals.

If you think your rights were violated:

  • A mutual No-Contact Order is issued that includes a gag order, submit a written request that the prohibition on talking about what happened be limited to the Respondent;
  • The sanctions after a Finding of Responsibility include a mutual No-Contact Order, appeal the sanction on the grounds that you should not be subject to discipline as the Complainant. Request that a unilateral (one-sided) No-Contact Order be implemented against only the Respondent instead;
  • Your school asks you to keep the details of your ongoing Title IX proceedings confidential, confirm in writing that you are still able to talk openly about your experience(s) of sexual harassment/sexual assault and the Title IX process, as long as you do not mention the Respondent’s name.

5.  You have the right to not be retaliated against for filing a Title IX complaint.

Your rights may have been violated if:

  • You are harassed by the Respondent, their friends and family, or anyone else on their behalf, and your school doesn’t intervene;
  • A teacher you reported for sexual misconduct threatens or gives you a lower grade in their class, especially if you were doing well before reporting them;
  • Your school starts treating you poorly after you file a Title IX complaint, such as by making it harder to fulfill course requirements or threatening disciplinary action stemming from the incident or your report;
  • Students start giving you looks, ostracizing you, making fun of you, calling you gendered names (like “slut” or other derogatory words), and generally making you feel excluded as a result of filing your complaint, and the school doesn’t intervene.

If you think your rights were violated:

  • Report any harassment or discrimination by the Respondent, or by third parties on the Respondent’s behalf, to your school in writing and insist that the school take immediate action to investigate and stop the retaliation. Make sure to include that you think the harassment is a form of retaliation that is prohibited under Title IX;
  • Document any concerns you have about how your school is treating you in writing. If you are having issues with one particular office or department, try reporting the retaliation to an individual or group with power, such as a dean, superintendent, or school board.

The above is not a complete list of Title IX rights. To learn more, you can find a full list of rights on ERA’s website. In addition to the ideas above, if you think your rights have been violated, we strongly suggest seeking out a legal advocate or lawyer such as those at ERA. Click here to apply to speak with an ERA legal advocate or attorney. If your rights were violated, an attorney could help you properly document the issues, advocate on your behalf to the school, and could advise you on any potential legal actions you could take based on your school’s actions, including filing an OCR complaint and/ or complaint with your school district.

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