How to Report Sexual Harassment or Assault

If you choose to report the crime committed against you — and remember, what happened is by law a punishable crime — here are the steps to take.

If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted, you may be in shock and have no idea what to do. This may lead you to do nothing. If so, you wouldn't be alone.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 23 percent of victims of rape or sexual assault reported the crimes to police in 2016, compared to 54 percent of robbery victims and 58 percent of aggravated assault victims.

The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport will give you a good sense of the innumerable reasons why a woman may be unable to come forward following a crime. If you choose to report the crime committed against you — and remember, what happened is by law a punishable crime — here are the steps to take.

If you're being sexually harassed at work

This is not merely an inconvenient, awkward, or uncomfortable situation. It's against the law. And 33.6 million women in the United States have experienced it, reports Forbes.

In the United States, your employer is legally obligated to investigate reports of sexual harassment. The law also protects you from retaliation, meaning you can't be fired or demoted.

Write it down

As soon as you experience sexual harassment, write down what happened. Memories can fade, so you want to get the details down while they're still sharp. Record dates, places, times, and witnesses. If there were witnesses, ask them to write down what they saw and heard. If the harassment is affecting your productivity and ability to work, write that down as well.

Check your employee handbook

Consult your employee handbook to see what policies are in place for filing a sexual harassment complaint. Follow them.

Report it

Report the incident in writing to the head of human resources. Doing it in writing begins a paper trail. If you're not sure what to put in your letter, Toni Jaramilla, an attorney and the former chair of the California Employment Lawyers Association, recommended a sample version to the Los Angeles Times.

What will your employer do?

You should receive an acknowledgement of your complaint the day you send it and an investigation should begin within the week. While there's no legal statute dictating how long a workplace has before they begin investigation, it should be expeditious. Should they fail to investigate the claim, write a follow-up letter. Be sure to state the date of your first complaint and the fact that you've heard nothing since. Remember: paper trail.

Contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

This is the federal agency in charge of enforcing anti-discrimination laws. You can file a complaint or simply speak to someone to gather resources. Should you decide to file a complaint, you'll need to be prompt. You have 180 (up to 300) days to file a claim.

File A Lawsuit

After you file a formal complaint with the EEOC, you can pursue a lawsuit that could recoup money damages or make your employer change its practices to prevent further sexual harassment. Check out Equal Rights Advocates for more information and referrals to attorneys.

If You've Been Sexually Assaulted

Rape is the most under-reported crime on the books, with 63 percent of sexual assaults never reported to police. If you want to report the crime committed against you, here's what to do.

Call 911

If you're in immediate danger, help will come to you wherever you are.

Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1.800.656.HOPE

A staff member at RAINN, the largest national anti-sexual violence hotline, will connect you to a local assault service provider who can guide you through the process of getting help and reporting to law enforcement. The local service providers can help connect you to law enforcement officers specifically trained to work with survivors of sexual assault. They may also be able to send an advocate to accompany you through the reporting process.

Receive medical care

Even if you haven't decided whether or not to report your sexual assault to law enforcement, you should still receive medical care. A sexual assault forensic exam, commonly called a "rape kit," gathers and preserves possible DNA evidence and provides important medical care following assault. By law, you do not have to report the crime to have an exam, and you will not be billed for the cost of the exam. Later, if you do decide to report the crime, the evidence will increase the likelihood of prosecution.

Many reasons make victims reluctant to report, but following these steps could help you gain a sense of justice against your perpetrator.