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People who experience sexual assault—often called “survivors”—have many options for going forward. Survivors find support from many sources, including informal resources, such as family and friends, as well as professional resources, like crisis centers, health care providers, law enforcement officers, and campus authorities. All these options offer different services and work in different ways. These options aren’t mutually exclusive, and there is no one “right” course of action.

Our purpose here is to give you an overview of the professional support services available to you. There’s a lot of information in this article, but the most important message is very simple: There are many people who can help survivors find support and take action. If you (or a friend) have any questions or need a safe person to talk to, a sexual assault response center is a great place to start. Find one near you on the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) website.

While this article focuses on sexual assault, there are also resources available for students who have experienced sexual harassment, stalking, or intimate partner violence (also known as dating violence or domestic violence), and for those who aren’t sure how to categorize their experiences.

Sexual assault response centers

On many campuses and in communities, professionals at sexual assault response centers (sometimes called “rape crisis centers” or “victim advocates”) can help survivors explore their options, connect them with further resources, and provide support.

In communities where a sexual assault response center is not available, survivors can contact campus mental health services or a 24/7 national hotline, such as RAINN at 1-800-656-4673.

Services may include:

  • Counseling, both in times of crisis (e.g., through a hotline or at a walk-in center) and ongoing support.
  • Help deciding on immediate steps, such as whether to report to the police or a Title IX coordinator, and connecting to health care.
  • Assistance with disciplinary and legal processes, such as explaining survivor’s rights on campus and in courts.
  • Support groups, education, and sometimes, political action.
  • Medical advocates who can accompany survivors to medical appointments and help coordinate follow-up care.

Privacy and confidentiality

  • Most hotlines, including the national RAINN hotline, are confidential and can be anonymous.
  • Victim advocates are not usually required to report assaults to the police or Title IX coordinators, unless the victim is under 18, although policies may vary by state and campus. Staff can explain their confidentiality policies and help survivors make choices about disclosure.
  • Like any mental health professionals, victim advocates may share information with authorities if they believe that a client is at imminent risk of harm. 

Immediate steps

Advocates can help in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault. They can provide a safe place to talk, safety planning, and connections to medical care. They can also help explain options for reporting a sexual assault.  

Next steps

Advocates can be very helpful in the long term. Many offer counseling, support groups, case management, and support during disciplinary and legal processes. They can also provide referrals to sources of ongoing support, such as campus counseling centers or faith-based services.

  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center maintains a list of local community advocacy resources.
  • Anyone can contact an advocate, even if they haven’t personally experienced sexual assault. You can call a hotline for advice on supporting a friend or loved one, or if you have questions about sexual assault.
  • Advocates work with a broad range of experiences. Sometimes people contact advocates to talk about experiences that happened years before, to process a friend’s struggles, or even to discuss upsetting events on the news.

Laws, policies, processes, resources, and terminology vary by state and institution. This content might not be accurate in every situation. Always ask.

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Title IX Coordinators

Title IX coordinators are responsible for ensuring that educational institutions are free from gender-based discrimination and sexual misconduct, including sexual assault. They are responsible for managing campus sexual misconduct prevention efforts as well as tracking its incidence, responding to complaints, and preventing its reoccurrence.

Title IX coordinators can explain university policies on sexual assault and can explain available disciplinary procedures. They can also help ensure that a sexual assault does not hinder a student’s educational process by arranging accommodations. For example, Title IX coordinators may be able to help survivors get extensions on coursework or avoid having to take a class with a perpetrator.

Many university staff and faculty members are considered “responsible employees” under Title IX. Some students in positions of authority, such as residence advisors, are also “responsible employees.” If responsible employees hear about an instance of sexual assault (or harassment), they need to report it to a Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator generally reaches out to the survivor to inform them of available resources. In limited cases, these reports may lead to disciplinary investigations. Title IX coordinators work with survivors to understand their wishes and to determine which next steps would be most helpful.

Privacy and confidentiality

  • Title IX coordinators can explain the ways that they maintain privacy and confidentiality, and under what circumstances they share information. Policies vary by school, so it can be helpful for survivors to ask about this up front.classified folder
  • In limited cases, reporting information to a Title IX coordinator may lead to a campus disciplinary investigation. Title IX coordinators generally do not share information with police unless a student is at imminent risk of harm, except for de-identified information that they share for tracking purposes. In all cases, Title IX coordinators strive to communicate with survivors and respect their wishes. 

Immediate steps

  • Title IX coordinators can explain resources available at the university and connect students to other resources, such as counseling, medical care, and/or the police.
  • Title IX coordinators can help arrange safety measures, such as “no-contact” agreements with perpetrators.

Next steps

  • Title IX coordinators can collaborate with other university staff and faculty to arrange academic or living accommodations.
  • Title IX coordinators can explain university disciplinary processes and help survivors explore their disciplinary options.

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Time frame

Students can contact Title IX coordinators at any time. Anyone—not just survivors themselves—can report an incident of sexual misconduct to a Title IX coordinator.

SMU resources

For questions or concerns regarding Title IX and sexual violence at SMU, please contact Samantha Thomas, the Title IX Coordinator in the Office of Institutional Access and Equity (IAE).  You can also file a complaint or make a report of Title IX harassment including all forms of sexual misconduct and sexual violence using the Title IX Harassment Complaint Form and submit it to IAE at [email protected].

The Office of Institutional Access and Equity can be reached at 214-768-3601 or [email protected] IAE is located in Perkins Administration Building, Room 204.

You can also reach out to any of SMU’s Deputy Title IX Coordinators

Denise Gauthier, Office of Institutional Access and Equity, 214-768-3601 or email [email protected]

Martin L. Camp, Dedman School of Law, 214-768-2839 or email [email protected]

Griffin Sharp, Office for Health Promotion, Student Affairs, 214-768-2393 or email [email protected]

Susan Vollmerhausen, Athletics, 214-768-4963 or email [email protected]

Reva Pollack, Graduate Studies, 214-768-4202 or email [email protected]

  • Title IX coordinators can help address a wide range of situations, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. In many cases, they can provide support for incidents that happened off campus if students were involved.
  • A school’s Title IX or disciplinary investigation is completely separate from a criminal or civil investigation. The two are never mutually exclusive.

Laws, policies, processes, resources, and terminology vary by state and institution. This content might not be accurate in every situation. Always ask.

Medical professionals

Medical professionals can provide support after a sexual assault. Some nurses have specialized training to provide services in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault. They are often called SANEs (sexual assault nurse examiners), but can go by other names, such as forensic nurse examiners.

clip board with stethoscopeSANEs can explain medical options and conduct forensic exams (a medical exam to collect and preserve evidence of a sexual assault). They provide any other needed medical care, such as preventative treatment for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. In some cases, SANEs testify as a witness if a criminal case goes to trial. Not all hospitals have SANEs on call, so sometimes emergency room nurses and/or doctors complete the exam.

Privacy and confidentiality

  • Usually, SANEs and other nurses or doctors are not mandated to report the assault to the police, unless the victim is under 18 (although laws vary by state).
  • SANEs make physical evidence available to the police. Survivors 18 and older can choose to have a “John/Jane Doe rape kit,” which allows them to have evidence collected without revealing their identity. This way, survivors can have evidence collected and decide if they would like to report to the police at a later time.
  • Like any medical professionals, SANEs may share information with authorities if they believe that a patient is at imminent risk of harm.

Immediate steps

A specially trained medical professional may complete a forensic evidence exam, commonly called a “rape kit.” The process can include:

  • A full-body physical examination and collection of medical history.
  • Collection of blood, urine, hair, semen, and other body secretion samples.
  • Collection of the survivor’s clothes.
  • Photos to document any injuries.

Find a detailed description of the process here.

Next steps

Medical professionals can give survivors referrals to counseling, follow-up medical care, and other resources. Rape kits are turned over to local police as evidence. Medical professionals should inform survivors of how long the rape kit will be stored, as this varies by state.

Time frame

Survivors can seek medical care at any time. The sooner survivors seek care, the greater the likelihood of preventing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. The guidelines for collecting forensic evidence vary by state, but state authorities typically recommend collecting evidence within three days (72 hours).  

SMU resources

SMU recommends students go to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, 8200 Walnut Hill Lane, where a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) will provide medical care and a sexual assault exam; call 214-345-6203 or visit texashealth.org/dallassane.

  • The Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center (DARCC) is a community resource that provides confidential counseling and can assist students at Presbyterian Hospital Dallas; call 972-641-7273 (available 24/7) or visit www.dallasrapecrisis.org.
  • SMU Police officers, who are trained in sexual misconduct issues, are available to transport and accompany students to the hospital; call 214-768-3333. Officers will not be present during the exam. Students may bring a friend or family member for support. Please note that if asked to provide transport, SMU Police will file a police report; see “Report to Police” for more information.
  • A confidential counselor in SMU Counseling Services who specializes in sexual misconduct issues also can accompany students to the hospital. Call 214-768-2277 (an emergency contact number is provided at all hours), or SMU Police can contact Counseling Services for students.

In addition to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, other area hospitals that have health care professionals authorized to perform medical/legal examinations are:

Parkland Hospital, 5201 Harry Hines Blvd.

  • Main phone, 214-590-8000
  • Victim Intervention Program and Rape Crisis Center, 214-590-0430

Methodist Dallas Medical Center, 1441 N. Beckley Ave.

  • Main phone, 214-947-8181
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), 214-947-8181

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, 6200 W. Parker Road

  • Emergency room, 972-981-8003
  • If possible, survivors should avoid any activities that might disrupt evidence, such as showering, brushing hair, or changing clothes.
  • Survivors can refuse any part of the exam, although this may impact what evidence is collected.
  • Survivors can bring a friend, family member, or victim advocate to the exam if they wish.
  • Exams must be free or fully reimbursed by health insurance companies, whether or not survivors decide to report the assault to the police. Other hospital costs, such as X-rays or lab tests, might be charged to survivors or health insurance companies.

Laws, policies, processes, resources, and terminology vary by state and institution. This content might not be accurate in every situation. Always ask. 

Police

The police can explain survivor’s legal options, investigate the incident, and potentially prosecute the perpetrator. In some cases, survivors can work with a sensitive crimes officer, who is specially trained to handle sexual assault.

SMU urges anyone who has experienced sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking to alert police as soon as possible. SMU campus authorities can provide assistance in notifying law enforcement authorities, at the victim’s request.

Sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking are crimes punishable under Texas law by imprisonment. These acts also are violations of the federal law Title IX and of SMU’s Title IX policy.

To contact police

On campus: SMU Police can be reached by calling 911 from a campus phone or 214-768-3333 from a cell phone; or by picking up a blue-light phone on campus at any time of day or night.

Off-campus: Students should call 911 to reach police in that jurisdiction or call 214-768-3333 to reach SMU Police, who can connect callers with police in the appropriate jurisdiction.

Crime victims have the right to choose to talk to police when they feel ready to do so, and also can choose to decline involvement with the police. SMU urges victims to notify police as soon as possible. Reporting an incident to police does not automatically lead to criminal charges being filed or criminal prosecution. However, when a victim immediately reports an incident, police are better able to collect evidence that may be helpful in building a criminal case, even if the victim decides to wait until a later date to pursue criminal charges. In addition, a student will have input about his or her case after talking with police.

The investigation

SMU is committed to responding to reports in a timely and respectful manner. When a victim makes a report to SMU Police, the police will request information about the circumstances of the incident and the alleged perpetrator in order to aid the investigation and build a criminal case.

In their operations and criminal investigations, SMU Police follow state and federal rules of procedure and evidence. The investigation conducted by SMU Police can include gathering evidence and witness statements, and obtaining search warrants and arrest warrants from a judge.

A crime alert is issued by campus email if SMU determines there is imminent danger, or the likelihood of a continuing danger, against which the campus community needs to be warned, or if an alert would aid in the prevention of similar crimes in the future. Crime alerts also are posted online at smu.edu/police.

SMU Police notify the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office or other appropriate external law enforcement agency when a case of sexual assault has been reported and is under investigation.

Pursuing criminal charges

When a victim decides to pursue criminal charges, a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office determines whether sufficient evidence exists to press charges and present the case to a grand jury to obtain an indictment and proceed with a trial, after SMU Police have presented the findings of their investigation.

SMU Police are available to counsel and accompany students through the criminal process.

In addition, when a case of sexual misconduct is reported to SMU Police, the police notify the SMU Title IX Coordinator, as required by the federal law Title IX. The SMU Title IX Coordinator will provide information about the victim’s option to pursue an SMU grievance process under University policy, in addition to the criminal process.

  • Survivors are not required to report a sexual assault to the police.
  • Survivors can bring a friend, family member, or victim advocate with them.

Ultimately, the support a person chooses to get after an incident of sexual assault or harassment is completely up to them. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or harassment, it can be very helpful to talk to someone. RAINN offers free, confidential support via live chat or their 24/7 hotline: 1-800-656-4673.

Learn more about sexual assault prevention, support, and consent here.

SMU Resources
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Article sources

Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. (2019). Confidentiality and privacy. Retrieved from https://barcc.org/help/confidentiality

Break the Cycle. (2014). Reporting sexual assault to the police. Retrieved from https://www.breakthecycle.org/blog/reporting-sexual-assault-police

Brown University: Title IX and Gender Equity. (2019). I am a responsible employee. Retrieved from https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/title-ix/get-help/i-am-responsible-employee

Forensics for Survivors. (2015). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from https://www.surviverape.org/forensics/sexual-assault-forensics/answers-to-faq

Harvard University. (2019). Title IX coordinators. Retrieved from https://titleix.harvard.edu/links/title-ix-coordinators

Michigan Tech Title IX. (2019). Responsible employees/mandated reporting. Retrieved from https://www.mtu.edu/title-ix/policy/responsible-employees/

National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2018). Find help. Retrieved from https://www.nsvrc.org/find-help

Northeastern University Office for University Equity and Compliance. (2019). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from https://www.northeastern.edu/ouec/frequently-asked-questions/

RAINN. (2019a). Reporting to law enforcement. Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/articles/reporting-law-enforcement

RAINN. (2019b). What is a rape kit? Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/articles/rape-kit

RAINN. (2019c). Aftermath: Working with the criminal justice system. Retrieved from https://rainn.org/get-info/legal-information/working-with-the-criminal-justice-system

United States, Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. (2017, September). Q&A on campus sexual misconduct. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-title-ix-201709.pdf

University of Washington. (2019). Making a report to police. Retrieved from https://www.washington.edu/sexualassault/reporting/police/

Yale University Office of the Provost. (2019). When to contact a coordinator. Retrieved from https://provost.yale.edu/title-ix/when-to-contact