Skip to Main Content

Services for Students

You are in the main content

Sexual Trauma Empowerment Program (STEP)

The CC is the primary, on-campus, mental health resource for survivors of sexual trauma. We provide a variety of clinical, educational, consultation, and referral services for survivors. We are a confidential resource. 

Sexual Trauma Empowerment Program logo
The Counseling Center's Sexual Trauma Empower Program (STEP) offers free and confidential short and long-term individual, group, and emergency sexual trauma counseling services for JMU students. We also assist with medical, judicial, and legal referrals as well as offer consultation around Title IX, for faculty, staff, family members, and friends of survivors of sexual trauma. 

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires all university employees to report disclosures of sexual harassment and sexual assault to the Office of Equal Opportunity in an effort to foster and maintain an environment free from sex discrimination, and so that the university can provide a prompt and effective response. Most JMU faculty, staff, and student employees must abide by these requirements. As staff members of the Counseling Center, we are exempt from Title IX reporting requirements, and communications with our clients are privileged by law; therefore, we will discuss Title IX implications with faculty, staff, family members, and students as needed, and serve as clinicians for students directly impacted by sexual trauma. The Counseling Center is a safe and confidential environment for discussion of sexual harassment and assault; however, we encourage all survivors and support persons to review Title IX requirements before making any disclosures to other university personnel.

How to make an appointment at the Counseling Center
How to get assistance with a crisis or emergency

STEP Services

Individual Counseling

Individual counseling provides survivors with a safe and confidential environment to explore their sexual trauma and/or how it may be affecting other aspects of their current functioning. Counseling at the Counseling Center is a collaborative endeavor in which the counselor and client work together to identify goals and directions for treatment.

Support Group

During the Fall and Spring Semesters of each academic year, the Counseling Center offers support groups for survivors of sexual trauma as well as a women's process group. The groups are available to current, full-time undergraduate and graduate students and there is no session limit on group participation. Survivors of all types of sexual trauma are welcome.


Advocacy services on the individual level involve assisting sexual trauma survivors with medical, judicial, and legal referrals. The Counseling Center is also involved in university level efforts to better respond to and support the needs of survivors.


Consultation services are available to sexual trauma survivors as well as friends of survivors, faculty, staff, and family members. These services can help provide an understanding of the available Counseling Center services, how to help support a survivor of sexual trauma, and relevant aspects of Title IX. To access these services, please contact the Counseling Center and request a consultation, by phone or in person, for you or about someone you know who has been assaulted.

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault doesn't only mean rape. As defined by JMU's Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices (OSARP), sexual assault refers to sexual contact without consent and includes intentional touching, either of the victim or when the victim is forced to touch, directly or through clothing, another person's genitals, breasts, thighs or buttocks; rape (sexual intercourse without consent whether by an acquaintance or a stranger); attempted rape; sodomy (oral sex or anal intercourse) without consent; or sexual penetration with an object without consent.

Virginia Statute for Rape
Virginia Statute for Attempted Rape
OSARP (from the JMU Student Handbook)

JMU Policy on Discrimination and Harassment

Title IX

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top

Have you been sexually assaulted?

Some guidelines if you have recently experienced a sexual assault:

  • Go to a safe place.
  • Call the Department of Public Safety (540-568-6911) if the incident occurred on campus; call the Harrisonburg Police Department (540-434-4436) if it occurred off campus.
  • Seek support from a friend or family member. Be advised that Title IX may apply. Click here for more information on mandated reporting.
  • Do not shower, bathe, or douche. Try not to urinate if possible.
  • Do not eat, drink liquids, smoke or brush your teeth if oral contact took place.
  • Keep the clothes worn during the offense. If clothes are changed, place clothes in a paper bag (evidence deteriorates in plastic).
  • Get prompt medical attention for injuries and/or evidence collection
  • Do not destroy the physical evidence that may be found in the vicinity of the crime. If the crime occurred in your home, you should not clean or straighten until the police have had an opportunity to collect evidence.
  • Tell a trusted support all details remembered about the assault to help support future legal or judicial charges.
  • Write down all details remembered as soon as possible.
  • Remember, sexual assault is NOT the victim's fault!

Some options to consider:

Has someone you know been sexually assaulted?

Sexual traumas involve loss of power and control. Supporting a survivor should include helping him or her regain this control in part through ensuring he or she makes informed decisions. Before listening to a survivor's story, it is important to share your Title IX reporting responsibilities. Visit our page on supporting a survivor of sexual assault.

How Can I Help?

  • Believe the person who tells you that he or she has experienced a sexual trauma and remember that it is NEVER the survivor's fault.
  • Do not be offended if the survivor does not tell you everything immediately. The survivor may be afraid of others' reactions and feel ashamed of what happened. Waiting to share can be very common.
  • Listen and believe the survivor, affirming that he/she has your support.
  • Give control to the survivor. Allow the survivor to speak for him/herself. Sexual assault is a crime that takes away individual power. Survivors need to make their own decisions so they can regain power over their own lives.
  • Often, survivors blame themselves for their experience. Assure them that it was not their fault, even if they were intoxicated. The only person who should take responsibility for what happened is the assailant.
  • Realize that people of all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses can be affected by sexual trauma.
  • Educate yourself on different stereotypes and myths surrounding sexual trauma.
  • Recognize that degrading sex-role stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual orientation may make it difficult for individuals of diverse populations to disclose their experiences.
  • Encourage the individual to seek additional services such as counseling, legal help, familial support, etc., but don't push – let the survivor make the decisions.
  • Seek support for yourself; call a hotline such as CARE (Campus Assault ResponseE) or consider contacting the Counseling Center to utilize consultation services or make an individual appointmeny to talk about your personal emotions surrounding the sexual assault.

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top


Who will I talk to if I come into the counseling center?

You will be scheduled for an initial assessment appointment with a qualified counselor to help you understand what services are available and to make decisions regarding how you want to begin addressing your sexual trauma. Counseling at the Counseling Center is a collaborative endeavor in which the counselor and client work together to identify goals and directions for treatment.

Will I be forced to give details about the sexual trauma?

No. At the Counseling Center, you are only required to share what you are comfortable sharing. Our immediate concern is your safety. After safety has been established, you have control over what you choose to share and what you choose to keep to yourself. While talking openly with a counselor about your sexual trauma is often an important part of healing, this is only done with your consent and at your pace.

Will I have to give the name of my assailant?

No. If you choose to share your assailant's name during a session, however, this information will be kept confidential.

If I choose to go to the hospital, what will happen there?

You may choose to go to the hospital for any injuries that may have occurred, to have evidence collected, or to address questions regarding the possibility of pregnancy and/or STI transference. A representative from the Collins Center will serve as an advocate during your time at SRMH

If you are considering pressing charge and choose to have evidence collected, you will be seen by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) who will prepare a kit of the evidence. These exams are most effective when conducted within 72 hours of the sexual trauma. The evidence kit will be submitted for forensic analysis but it will be kept confidential. You also have the option to keep the physical evidence kit anonymous. You have approximately 90 days after evidence is collected  to determine if you wish to press charges. You will not see the results of the evidence kit.

Do I have to press charges?

No. If you do not wish to press charges against the assailant, you do not have to.

Do I have to tell my parents?

No. Your parents may be able to assist you with any resources you may need or additional support; however, if you do not want your parents to know about your sexual trauma, you do not have to tell them. Who you tell is up to you.

Will the counselor talk about my business to other people?

Counselors are sworn by a code of ethics and Virginia law not to breach client-counselor confidentiality. Within the Counseling Center, your counselor may seek supervision or consultation; however, these conversations are also kept confidential and would not include the sharing of any unnecessary information. There are a few exceptions to the general rule of confidentiality: if the client is expressing harm to him/herself or others, if there is suspicion of a current case of child or elder abuse, or in the event of a court order.

I was drinking when it happened. Doesn't that make it my fault?

No. Choosing to drink does not mean you are choosing to be sexually assaulted or raped. You do not lose any rights as a person if you choose to consume alcohol.

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top

Sexual Trauma Myths

Myth: Only women are victims of sexual assault or rape, and only men commit these acts.
Reality: Both men and women can be sexually assaulted or raped, and assailants can be male or female with any sexual orientation.

Myth: If a person has been drinking alcohol when he or she is sexually assaulted, that person should accept some of the responsibility for the assault .
Reality: Sexual assault survivors are never responsible for the attack, no matter what, no matter how much alcohol was consumed. You do not lose your rights as a person because you chose to consume alcohol. The assailant, not the victim, is responsible for perpetrating a sexual assault.

Myth: You can't be raped or sexually assaulted by your significant other.
Reality: Any form of unwanted sexual activity in any relationship constitutes sexual assault.

Myth: A person is most likely to be assaulted by a stranger, in unfamiliar places or at night.
Reality: In approximately 80-85% of cases, the survivor knows his or her assailant.

Myth: Women often falsely accuse men of sexual assault or rape (for example, to get back at them, or because they regret or feel guilty about having sex).
Reality: Nearly all sexual assaults are truthfully reported, and, in fact, sexual assaults are vastly underreported.

Myth: Rapists have psychological problems; that is why they sexually assault people.
Reality: Most assailants are males with no history of mental disorder. Reasoning for their actions can be quite complicated and unique for each individual.

Myth: There are certain cultural backgrounds or races that tend to produce most perpetrators of sexual assault.
Reality: Perpetrators include men and women of all races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, as well as economic and social classes.

Myth: You have to be a young, white woman to be at risk for sexual assault.
Reality: Women of all ages are at risk; in fact, 25% of women will be assaulted in the course of their lifetime. Survivors or assailants of sexual assault cross all lines of ethnicity, sexuality, gender and religion. Anyone can be sexually assaulted and anyone can be a sexual assault assailant. There is no typical profile of a victim or an assailant.

Myth: If the victim did not resist the assailant, or there were no weapons or injuries, then it can't be considered sexual assault.
Reality: Threats of violence and coercion are weapons, and victims may not resist because they fear injury. If the experience is unwanted, it is sexual assault.

Source: Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Prevention & Support at Stanford University

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top

Multicultural Survivors of Sexual Trauma

LGBTQIQA Survivors:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, queer, and asexual individuals may experience additional difficulties and fear in the event of sexual trauma than do heterosexual individuals.
  • Reporting an incident may involve disclosing one's sexual orientation, and thereby creating fear of alienation, misunderstanding, or exposure to assumptions and judgments.
  • Additionally, since numerous LGBTQIQA communities can be very close, survivors may fear losing friends or facing isolation from other community members.
  • Transgender individuals may experience additional discrimination during reporting if anatomy and/or appearance do not match stereotypical gender norms.

Male Survivors:

  • If a male survivor is under the impression that only women experience sexual trauma, he may feel isolated and alone.
  • Due to societal standards in western cultures, male survivors may feel emasculated.
  • If the trauma was perpetrated by another man, the survivor may struggle with confusion relating to sexual orientation.
  • Men may avoid disclosing their sexual trauma, labeling it sexual trauma, seeking services, or choosing legal prosecution because of assumptions that may be made about them, their gender role, or their sexuality
  • Male survivors may also assume that there are no resources available for men who have suffered from sexual trauma. Fortunately, this is not the case.

Racial and Ethnic Minority Survivors:

  • As seen with other diverse populations, racial and ethnic minority sexual trauma survivors face unique barriers and difficulties.
  • The issue of racism may be relevant to the experience of sexual trauma, thus necessitating additional resources to cope and/or pursue criminal charges.
  • In some cultures, seeking outside help is not easy or acceptable. These cultures often emphasize relying upon family members, community, church, or God(s) rather than upon support outside the community.
  • Some survivors may not disclose their sexual trauma and instead attempt to cope on their own due to the belief that seeking additional help or legal assistance will be frowned upon.
  • Fear of scrutiny and misunderstanding from potential service providers due to anticipated racism can be an additional barrier to seeking help.

Survivors with Religious Affiliations

  • Individuals with some religious backgrounds may face unique struggles following sexual trauma.
  • Survivors may only seek support within their organization or rely heavily on their faith to cope with the trauma. Alternatively, some religious cultures emphasize chastity and wholeness, leading survivors to feel sinful or shameful despite their experiences having been unwelcomed ones.
  • Survivors who are members of these religious communities may experience fear in disclosing their sexual traumas as well as a perception of responsibility for their experience.

Survivors with Low Socioeconomic Status:

  • A common barrier and concern for sexual trauma survivors with low socioeconomic status is the means to locate and pay for helpful resources.
  • Some survivors may experience a sense of hopelessness due to the perception that affordable support services are nonexistent.
  • While services for survivors with limited means may be harder to find, they are available, including counseling agencies that offer sliding scale payment options.

College Student Survivors:

  • Although college students may identify with one or more of the categories described above, they may also experience distinctive struggles related to their life stage and development, such as fear of academic failure.
  • Depression, isolation, and feelings of helplessness may impair survivors' ability to engage in school work.
  • Additional stress may arise from taking time away from school for legal purposes connected with the sexual trauma. Completing assignments late, taking time off, or delaying graduation may become options when survivors would not otherwise consider them.
  • Survivors have a need to take control of their lives and college students may disregard emotional feelings to complete school work.
  • Many colleges and universities have alcohol-driven cultures, creating an environment with especially high risk of unwanted sexual contact.
  • At least fifty percent of sexual assaults of college students are associated with alcohol use.
  • Ninety percent of campus sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim.
  • Since students often move away from home for college, sexual trauma survivors may feel isolated and alone in their pain. This reaction can be even more acute if the survivor is in a new location and he or she is unaware of the support services available in the area.

Quick Statistics about Virginia

The following report experiencing rape in their lifetime:

  • 3% of men (13% experience sexual assault);
  • 18% of Hispanic women;
  • 27% of African American women;
  • 28% of White women;
  • 29% of women identified as Asian, Pacific Islander, Hawaiian, mixed race or other ethnic group.


Barry, D.M., & Cell, P.M. (2009). Campus Response Teams: Program development and operational management. New Jersey: Civic Research Institute.

Leftwich, B., Perry, B., & Odor, R.K. (2007). Virginia Needs and Resources Assessment and State Plan for Sexual Violence Prevention. Virginia Dept. of Health.

Masho, S., & Odor, R. K. (2003). Prevalence of Sexual Assault in Virginia. Virginia Department of Health.

Men Can Stop Rape (2006). Male survivors: What you should know about men who have been sexually assaulted.

University of Michigan. (2010) Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Center.

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top

Stalking FAQs

What is stalking?

Stalking is a series of behaviors and actions toward a person that makes him/her feel afraid or in danger. Stalking is a serious action that may escalate over time and become violent.

What does stalking look like?

  • Following or spying on a person, including waiting outside one's home, school, or work.
  • Attempting unwanted communication, including phone calls, text/picture messages, emails, and social networking sites.
  • Monitoring phone or Internet use.
  • Leaving unwanted items for one to find.
  • Damaging property or items one cares for.
  • Using technology as a means of tracking, such as hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS).
  • Threatening someone and/or his or her family, friends, or pets.
  • Using public records or other means of investigation to locate personal information.
  • Any other actions that control, track, or frighten the person.

How often does stalking occur?

  • 30% of women and 17% of men in the United States report being stalked.
  • 25% of college students report having been stalked at some point during their college career.
  • Most stalking victims are between the ages of 18 and 29.
  • Individuals from all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds are affected by stalking.

3.4 million people are stalked each year in the United States.

How might I act or feel if I am being stalked?

  • You may feel fearful, vulnerable, anxious, irritable, sad, hopeless, overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, isolated, and angry.
  • You may experience flashbacks or have disturbing thoughts or memories of the incident(s).
  • You may have trouble sleeping, focusing, or remembering.
  • You may have problems with eating including loss of appetite, forgetting to eat, or overeating.
  • You may experience disruptions in social and/or other networks.

What are some characteristics of stalkers?

  • There is no stereotypical stalker or stalking situation; however, stalkers are more likely to be former intimate partners of their victims than any other form of relationship.
  • Men stalk women; men stalk men; women stalk men; and women stalk women.
  • A stalker can be from any socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

What about Cyberstalking?

  • Cyberstalking is one of the most common methods stalkers use to track their victims, to locate private/personal information of their victim, and to contact their victim.
  • Cyberstalking may be more dangerous because the stalker may have higher access to information. It is also easier for the stalker to conceal his/her identity and use methods of deceit.

What does Virginia Law say about stalking?

  • Stalking is considered a crime and is prohibited.
  • If a perpetrator of stalking is found guilty, a protective order will be made by the court in addition to the perpetrator's sentence.

If I suspect I am being stalked, what can I do?

  • You may report the incident(s) to the Office of Public Safety or to the Harrisonburg City Police.
  • If you believe you are being stalked by another university student, you may contact OSARP.
  • You may also receive support services from the Counseling Center or the Office of Residence Life.
  • Refrain from responding directly to any attempts of communication from the stalker. Communication or any attention at all only encourages the stalker.
  • Take all threats seriously.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Keep all phone logs, emails, letters, and pictures of any damages to property, – it is all evidence.
  • Create a safety plan for yourself and consider a court protective order.
  • Use long, complicated passwords for Internet web sites, e-mails, online banking, and other portals that may contain personal information.
  • Choose security questions and answers that only you would know.
  • Use extreme caution when exchanging information via the Internet.


Alexy, E. M., Burgess, A. W., Baker, T., & Smoyak, S. A. (2005). Perceptions of cyberstalking among college students. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 5(3). 279-289.

Amar, A. F., & Alexy, E. A. (2010). Coping with stalking. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 13. 8-14.

Phillips, L., Quirk, R., Rosenfeld, B., & O'Connor, M. (2004). Is it stalking? Perceptions of stalking among undergraduates. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 31(1). 73-96.
Stalking Resource Center. (2010). Are you being stalked? The National Center for Victims of Crime. Retrieved from

Stalking Resource Center. (2010). Virginia: Civil stalking law. The National Center for Victims of Crime. Retrieved from

Stalking Resource Center. (2010). Virginia: January-March 2010. The National Center for Victims of Crime. Retrieved from

Truman, J. L., & Mustaine, E. E. (2009). Strategies for college student stalking victims: Examining the information and recommendations available. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 34. 69-34.

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top

Sexual Trauma On-Campus Resources

Please note, most of the resources listed below are subject to Title IX reporting requirements. For more information on Title IX reporting, visit JMU's Title IX web site.

Sexual Trauma Off-Campus Resources

Local Services:

  • The Collins Center - 540-434-2272
    24-hour sexual assault crisis hotline, counseling services, prevention and outreach
  • Commonwealth Attorney's Victim Witness Program - 540-564-3350
    Assistance & support through the criminal trial process
  • Harrisonburg Police Department - 540-434-4436

State and National Services:

  • Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • It Happened to Alexa Foundation: The Foundation offers assistance to defray costs of transportation and housing, so that the victim's support person can attend and take part in the criminal justice proceedings and be with them at this most difficult time. The trial venue must be over 60 miles from the residence of the support persons in order to qualify.
  • FaithTrust Institute (all religions and ethnicities)
  • Men's Domestic Abuse Helpline - 1-888-HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754)
  • National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
  • National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1-800-656-HOPE
  • Pandora's Project -
    Online message board for survivors and friends or family of survivors.
  • RAINN: 24-hour online chat support (
    The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network; information gateway and support forum.
  • Stalking Resource Center: The National Center for Victims of Crime1-800-394-2255 (1-800-FYI-CALL)
  • Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER)
  • Virginia Family Violence & Sexual Assault Hotline - 1-800-838-8238
    Toll-free, confidential, 24-hour service that provides crisis intervention, support, information, and referrals to family violence and sexual assault survivors, their friends and families, professionals, and the general public.

How to make an appointment
Back to the Top