A survivor’s guide to reporting sexual assault at USC

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Content warning: This article contains references to sexual assault. 

You don’t need to be a survivor for this article to be useful — I can almost guarantee that you know one. Nearly one in three undergraduate women at USC experience assault during their time here, not to mention those who have experienced it before arriving on campus. There are also the men and vastly underrepresented populations of LGBTQIA+ people who are assault survivors as well.

Reporting is a complicated and draining process, but I am here to demystify it.

Not Reporting

Your first option may be the most obvious, but it should never be belittled or overlooked: Choosing not to report at all. Whether it is because you are not ready, you don’t want to deal with a months-long, retraumatizing investigation, or for literally any reason, choosing not to report is a valid decision — and one I made myself.


For those not ready to report, Callisto is a great option. Callisto is a nonprofit organization aimed at stopping repeat offenders, who account for the perpetrators of 90% of campus assaults according to clinical psychologist Jim Hopper. Their tool, an encrypted online reporting database, allows survivors to have a time-stamped record of their assault in case they ever decide to report and to optionally enter into a matching system.

“Our proprietary Matching System allows a survivor to enter the unique identifiers (ex: social media handles) of the perpetrator. If another survivor enters the same unique identifier, a ‘match’ occurs. If there is a match, matched survivors are connected with a Legal Options Counselor, a third-party attorney who will explain their options,” reads Callisto’s website.

Survivors are stronger together, both in reporting and in feeling less alone. Even if you never end up reporting, Callisto gives you the option to change your mind if you ever decide you want to. Callisto is not available on every college campus yet, but it is here at USC and survivors should take advantage of it.

USC Support Services

Within USC itself, support services are divided into two categories with regards to confidentiality: anonymous and private. Anonymous means just that — anything you tell them will not be shared without your permission by law. These resources include Counseling and Mental Health, Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services and the Office of the Ombuds.

Counseling and mental health have a variety of therapy services available to anyone who has paid a student health fee and can refer anyone with USC Student Health Insurance to an outside therapist as well. You can also schedule an appointment with an RSVP advocate through your student health portal or call the hotline. RSVP also has trauma-informed therapists and their advocates can arrange transport and accompany you to a rape crisis center or accompany you to report with Title IX or the police.

You may not have heard of the Office of the Ombuds. This office offers confidential ombuds, who act as a neutral, independent viewpoint to listen to a dispute or incident and suggest resources and a path forward. They are experts in resolving conflicts under University policy and are there as a resource and guide to your options.

USC’s “private” resources include all mandatory reporters on campus — staff, faculty, teaching assistants, residential advisors, graduate assistants and student supervisors. Some resource offices are Campus Support & Intervention, Office of International Services, Office of Student Accessibility Services and Student Equity and Inclusion programs (all of the cultural and identity based student centers).

However, “private” essentially means that while they cannot tell just anyone about your situation, they are required to report it to the Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX. This doesn’t mean a formal complaint will be made — only an initial report. EEO-TIX will then reach out to you about three times by email and if you do not wish to formally report, you can simply ignore it.

Reporting to Title IX

If you do want to report to Title IX, there are some things to be aware of. The first is that legally, Title IX can do nothing to protect your identity except for in cases of retaliation, threatening or interference with a case. As per USC Title IX’s website, “only individuals who need to have information about the report in order to provide support, investigate, or resolve the matter have access to this information.”

Among other changes, Trump’s Title IX regulations update in 2020 means that universities no longer have a two month limit on how long investigations can take. Hopefully, this will change soon with Biden’s updates to Title IX slated to go into effect in May.

“The Trump administration also scrapped a requirement that Title IX cases be resolved within 60 days, mandating instead that they be completed in a reasonable amount of time. The [Biden administration’s] new proposal would keep the same standard but add that schools must establish reasonably prompt time frames for major stages of grievance procedures,” reported NBC News’ Tyler Kingkade.

I have personally seen cases go on for over a year. There is no guarantee on the timeline and for many people it is retraumatizing to report. The same goes for reporting to the police and pursuing legal or civil action — I’m not saying don’t do it, but be aware of how long it may take and make sure you have supportive measures in place. In all honesty, Biden’s regulation doesn’t sound all that much better.

Reporting to Title IX can offer you the potential for housing or parking accommodations, a Mutual Avoidance of Contact directive, academic accommodations and potential sanctioning if the accused party is found guilty. These sanctions are determined by an independent Misconduct Sanctioning Panel and range from a warning to expulsion or termination of employment.

When filing a formal complaint with Title IX, they should assign you with a care manager to assist you with the process, both mentally and physically. Additionally, you are allowed to have an advisor of your choice present in any meetings or events during the process. This could be a parent or a friend, or a lawyer or advocate. For the formal hearing, if you do not already have an advisor you will be provided with one by the University. Asking all of these people questions is key to understanding your rights throughout the process and making informed decisions.

Advocates and reporting to the police

If you are reporting to the police, I would highly recommend going with an advocate and bringing with you a written statement of what happened that you can refer to (like the Callisto Vault), and bringing all the evidence you can find — including screenshots of conversations with the perpetrator or friends detailing the incident.

Advocates are available through RSVP, a local nonprofit Peace Over Violence and Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment — having one can make all the difference. Advocates have formal training and education in how best to support survivors and are taught how to be trauma-informed in their work. They can also assist you with securing financial legal aid if you cannot afford a lawyer — there are a lot of resources available to you through advocates.

If you plan to take any legal or civil action, I would highly recommend the Dordulian Law Group. They specialize in sexual and domestic violence, harassment and personal injury law. This law group not only dedicates its time and resources specifically to survivors, they also have two fully certified advocates on staff and a clinical therapist available to clients.
Ultimately, the decision to report or not should be yours alone. You are not responsible for anything your perpetrator does in the future if you do not report. Whether or not you decide to report says nothing about your worth, your strength or your resilience. I am proud of you for just surviving, and you should be too.

Infographic on sexual assault reporting.
(Au Chung | Daily Trojan)