Guide to Identifying & Reporting Sexual Violence on Campuses

A worried girl sits on a bench alone

It’s an unfortunate reality: Sexual violence happens. In fact, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that an American experiences a sexual assault every 92 seconds. And, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, college-aged students are at a higher risk for sexual violence than the general population. This guide aims to provide you with information about the prevalence of sexual violence on campus and to equip you with the tools you need to get help, including how to safely report it to the right people.

College Sexual Violence Statistics

Although the #MeToo movement has recently brought the topic of sexual assault and violence to the forefront of public dialogue, these are not new issues that have arisen in the past few years. Furthermore, instances of sexual violence on campus are much more common than you might think.

  • 2 percent of all college students are victims of rape or sexual assault through the use of force, incapacitation, or violence.
  • 1 percent of undergraduate women and 5.4 percent of undergraduate men experience rape or sexual assault through the use of force, incapacitation, or violence.
  • 73 percent of LGBTQ college students experience sexual harassment or abuse, in comparison to 61 percent of heterosexual students.
  • Just one in five female victims of sexual violence on campus will report the crime to law enforcement.
  • 4 percent of undergraduate women and 3.5 percent of undergraduate men report experiencing nonconsensual sexual touching.

How to Identify and Report Sexual Violence

Choosing whether or not to report sexual violence can be a challenging and frightening decision. In fact, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it’s believed that more than 90 percent of sexual assaults on campus go unreported. There are many reasons why a victim may choose not to report an instance of sexual violence, including the fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, the belief that the police will not be able to help, and concerns about potential social stigma.

Identifying Sexual Violence

It’s important to understand that sexual violence isn’t limited to acts of rape or attempted rape. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines sexual violence as “a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent.” It can take many forms—including experiences that don’t involve physical contact, such as verbal sexual harassment and stalking. It also includes sexual acts that occur under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or instances where a person was pressured to consent.

As sexual violence covers such a broad spectrum of sexual acts and behaviors, it may be difficult to properly recognize. If you’re unsure if an experience or incident should be considered sexual violence, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) provides detailed information on different types of sexual violence. For instance, RAINN discusses stalking and what types of situations might require the involvement of law enforcement.

In addition to understanding the different kinds of sexual violence, another important consideration is whether or not consent was given for a sexual encounter. Consent is used often when talking about sexual violence and identifying when an act has occurred without willing permission. According to Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), a few points about consent to remember include:

  • Consent must be clearly given and understood by both parties.
  • Consent may be communicated through words or actions.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

Steps for Reporting Sexual Assault on Campus

Here are some tips for safely reporting sexual violence on campus.

If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. Otherwise:

  • Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). A trained staff member can help you locate a health facility that can provide you with medical care, if required.
  • Go to your campus health center or campus police station to report the incident. If you are reporting to the police, you may be concerned that your situation is not serious enough. RAINN provides a list of some common concerns about reporting, as well as the reasons why you should still report.
  • Know your rights. Title IX requires schools that receive federal funding to ensure that you are able to continue with your schooling in an environment free from harassment and sexual violence.
  • Keep yourself safe. If you share classes or a residential building with the perpetrator, request a change.
  • Take care of yourself. Make use of security escorts or safe walks that your school may offer, and consider attending counseling sessions or accessing your school’s sexual assault services.

Resources for Survivors of Sexual Violence on Campus

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence on campus, know that you’re not alone. Below are a list of resources that can help you report the incident, heal from the trauma, and stay safe.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): This website offers a multitude of resources for survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones, including information on staying safe, understanding consent, reporting assault, and recovering from trauma.

National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE (4673): This free and confidential 24/7 hotline, operated by RAINN, helps victims of sexual violence by offering guidance and support. Trained staff members can offer advice and information, as well as help callers find local service providers.

Know Your IX: Led by youth and survivors of sexual violence, Know Your IX is a nonprofit project that aims to empower students to end sexual violence in schools. The website offers resources for those who have experienced sexual violence, as well as guidance for students who want to take action on their own campuses to improve safety.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center: This website offers a wealth of information for survivors, family members, educators, and the media about all kinds of sexual violence.


American College Health Association, National College Health Assessment

Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013” Know Your IX, Statistics

National Sexual Assault Hotline

National Sexual Violence Resource Center Office on Women’s Health, “Sexual Assault on College Campuses”

National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, “Culturally Competent Service Provision to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Survivors of Sexual Violence”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), “Reporting to Law Enforcement”

Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER)