Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse remain common student experiences at all levels of education, and while students of every gender, race, ability, caste, and background can and do experience sexual violence, women and girls, Black, Indigenous, and other students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, immigrant students, and other students with marginalized identities are particularly harmed. For example, Black girls who experience sexual assault are more likely to be disbelieved, blamed, and punished when they report, in part because of racist and sexist stereotypes that lead authority figures to perceive Black girls as more adult, more sexual, less innocent, and less deserving of protection than their white peers.

When sexual harassment and violence occurs, institutional responses are often harmful to survivors. Schools depend on policing models and criminal legal models, which do not center survivors’ needs. They also focus on protecting the institution, prioritize the needs of assailants over the needs of survivors, and too often punish survivors who report, especially when they do not conform to stereotypes of “ideal” victims. This has resulted in what is recognized as the “sexual abuse to prison pipeline” for girls. Changing the culture around sexual violence in schools also requires changing schools’ approach to discipline. This includes eradicating responses centered on punishment and exclusion that harm survivors, who are often disciplined when they report or when they act out as a result of untreated trauma.

As sites of teaching and learning, schools have the power to meaningfully shift our culture by helping students recognize the harm of sexual violence and disrupt the narratives that perpetuate it. All students should be able to learn with safety and dignity, and schools have a chance to create communities where students can gain an education free from violence—a place where they can feel safe and obtain quality knowledge, skills, and the tools to thrive. Students who experience sexual violence and other forms of sexual harassment deserve responses from educational institutions that prioritize addressing and remedying the harms they have experienced.


  1. Immediate repeal of the harmful DeVos Department of Education Title IX regulations, which have weakened schools’ responses to sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment, and restoration of Title IX’s robust protections for all young people in schools, including LGBTQIA+ and gender nonconforming young people.
  2. Universal comprehensive, age- and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, culturally and linguistically responsive, LGBTQIA-affirming, trauma-informed sexual health education that addresses child sexual abuse, consent, reproductive health, healthy relationships, sexual harassment, and dating violence, as well as resources and training for parents and educators to recognize and respond to signs of sexual abuse and communicate with the youth in their lives about sexual harm.
  3. Survivor-centered and trauma-informed restorative approaches to justice in schools that enable a shift away from punitive approaches to school discipline.
  4. Removal of police from schools and investments in counseling, mental health support, community supports, and social/emotional learning.
  5. Confidential support and resources for students experiencing sexual violence and school investment in partnerships with external community-based agencies to provide this support.
  6. Transformation of school culture to disrupt stereotypes and power dynamics that perpetuate rape culture (between authority figures and students, but also power differentials stemming from race, gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, among others), allowing schools to focus on prevention, bystander intervention, and creating environments where students of all identities can thrive. This includes elimination of dress codes and other practices that police students’ bodies (especially the bodies of girls, gender nonconforming students, and students of color) in ways that reflect racist and sexist stereotypes; use of school climate surveys to give students the ability to confidentially share their perceptions; and school commitment to address problems that these surveys reveal.


Safe exit