It can be difficult for any survivor to report a sexual assault, however survivors of color face an additional burden along with being a survivor: racism. There are many barriers to reporting sexual assault for survivors of color that is deeply rooted in racist, and sometimes sexist and homophobic, beliefs. The challenges of racism can deter many survivors of color from reporting a sexual assault. Some barriers to reporting are:
- Less support in the pursual of and knowledge about higher education due to a person’s first generation status
- Campus security overly criminalizing students of color
- Having already reported a hate crime to school and no actions taken by administration, or other experiences of administration not taking racial issues seriously
- Lack of culturally competent first responders and resources
Sometimes due to intersecting marginalized identities (i.e. women of color, LGBTQ of color, non US citizens of color, etc.) survivors of color experience additional reprisal from institutions because of racist attitudes and stereotypes, homophobia, transphobia, and more. Discriminatory beliefs not only silence survivors, but also normalizes rape and violence against people of color and perpetuates racist myths to deny justice. If you believe that your school administration may be fostering a hostile environment and violating your rights, here are some FAQ to assist:
1. How do I know if I am being discriminated against based on being a survivor of color?
Often survivors face victim blaming and invalidation of their experiences when reporting. Students may feel that their institution and administrators do not take their reports of sexual assault seriously and are being discriminated against based on their race and status as a survivor. Though it is unlikely that administrators would show overt signs of discrimination, students continue to experience microaggressions perpetrated by schools. Some examples of schools discriminating against students of color are:
- Disbelief in sexual violence experiences because of racist and sexist stereotypes about WOC (especially in cases of White perpetrators)
- Purposely misinforming students of their rights under Title IX and Title VI
- Using previous victimization against marginalized communities (ie LGBTQ of color, trans women of color, Native and African American women) to discriminate in sexual assault cases
- Failure to provide comprehensive and culturally competent resources to survivors of color after an assault
- Failure to provide comprehensive and culturally competent counseling services to students of color with disabilities
- Administrations and campus police criminalizing students of color
If you feel that you may be receiving different treatment or retaliation by a school, don’t second guess and trust yourself. Believe in your experiences, you are not alone. Microaggressions are just as discriminatory and harmful as overt acts of racism. There are a few different options to hold a school accountable, including filing a complaint.
2. How do I create a paper trail?
If you believe that you might be discriminated against or that your rights are being violated when you report your sexual assault, make sure to keep documentation of your interactions with school officials. Documenting communications and interactions with an institution is helpful when providing evidence of discrimination in a complaint.
- Try to get all communications in writing and/or audio recorded (only in certain states where this is permitted)
- Note taking
- Follow up in person meetings and verbal interactions with emails summarizing the meeting,
- Written statements
3. What is Title VI?
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal assistance. Title VI in conjunction with Title IX can be used to address sexual violence and discrimination against people of color.
Under Title VI, law institutions are legally obligated to take the necessary measures to ensure equal educational access to all races, ethnicities, and nationalities. These actions may include nondiscriminatory practices in programs and activities such as: admissions, recruitment, financial aid, student treatment and services, counseling , discipline, grading, athletics, housing and employment. Title VI also protects students from retaliation. If a survivor of color was discriminated against on the basis of gender and race after a sexual assault, for instance, by using racist stereotypes in order to dismiss a case, they can argue they were not afforded an equal hearing, which in turn denied them fair opportunities to educational access.
Although Title VI doesn’t specifically list what is covered in its guidelines, students of color still hold the same right as anyone else to feel safe and protected while on campus. Due to interactions between and within marginalized identities, it is possible for institutions to discriminate against people both by their status as a survivor and their race. Filing a joint Title IX and Title VI complaint can specifically support survivors of color so that they can describe how institutions are commonly insensitive to communities of color, are poorly trained, and lack cultural competency when addressing campus sexual assault.
A Note on Title VI:
Title VI, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), were created to give students of color, who were barred from academia by segregation and Jim Crow laws, access to higher education. However, there continues to be discrimination outside of segregation that prevents students of color from accessing equal educational opportunities. As students of color continue to be denied educational access,Title VI must also address any issue that may prevent a student of color from educational opportunities. This includes focusing on issues such as sexual violence, racialized hate crimes, and the lack of culturally competent policies as means of denying students of color equal access to educational programs and activities.
4. How does Title IX and Title VI protect students of color who may also be survivors of sexual violence?
Both Title IX and Title VI ensure an equal access to education. The Office for Civil Rights has explained that sexual violence denies students from an equal educational access. Title VI is to protect students of color from discrimination in education. Thus, Title IX and Title VI collectively serves to protect survivors of color who are discriminated against because of their status as a survivor and race.
5. What are my on campus reporting options if I’m a student of color?
Students of color have legal protections covered under Title IX, Title VI, Title II, etc equivalent to any other student. Therefore, the Title IX Coordinator is the best reporting option for students, especially survivors of color who may not feel safe reporting to campus police. Title IX Coordinators are required to lead an investigation into any sexual assault case that is reported to them. They also have the authority to discipline perpetrators, grant no contact orders, offer counseling and medical services covered by the school and give academic and housing accommodations.
Some schools list campus police or on campus resource centers (ie. women’s or LGBTQ centers) as resources for survivors of sexual assault, however for most schools only the Title IX Coordinator has the authority to properly discipline and make accommodations for students, so most students usually go straight to the school’s Coordinator in order to directly report. Sometimes survivors feel most comfortable disclosing their experiences of sexual violence to a trusted faculty or staff of the school. If you would like assistance with reporting sexual violence to the Title IX Coordinator, then enlisting a trusted faculty or staff as an advisor may be helpful. However it is important for survivors to be cautious if they wish to remain anonymous because a school’s faculty and/or staff might be mandatory reporters. Some schools require faculty and staff to be responsible employees who are obligated under Title IX to report all instances of sexual violence they should reasonably know of to the Title IX Coordinator. Some examples of responsible employees are Greek advisors, professors, department chairs, deans, and residential advisors.
A Note on Confidentiality:
For specifics on anonymously and/or confidential reporting, you can inquire within the Title IX office as each school has its own internal confidential and/or online reporting system and state laws vary. While some schools may have both, others don’t offer these reporting options at all. State laws have different confidentially laws for mental health and other medical professionals. Some staff have privileged communication, meaning that any communication between a client and qualified service provider is protected, while others working at Planned Parenthood or a rape crisis center may be mandatory reporters under varying state laws. If a person has privileged communication then any disclosure of a sexual assault is confidential and cannot be reported to the school without the survivor’s consent. However, it is imperative that before disclosing, survivors are well informed on who they can speak confidentially to and who may be a mandatory reporter.