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STEP At A Glance

The Counseling Center 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.

Program Description

The Counseling Center's Sexual Trauma Empowerment Program (STEP) offers free and confidential short and long-term individual, group, and emergency sexual trauma counseling services for James Madison University students, who are able to come in for their first visit any time during our business hours (Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm) to discuss treatment options with STEP or community resources. 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 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. A trauma-informed and collaborative approach is taken and the clinician 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. 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. It is designed to help survivors connect with others with a shared experience and empower one another in their healing.


The Counseling Center will help assist individuals get connected to the advocates. Advocacy is an additional confidential resources on campus that assists survivors with medical, judicial and legal referrals. For more information visit: The Counseling Center is also involved in university level efforts to better respond to and support the needs of survivors. For more information about the similarities and differences between counseling and advocacy please use the following Venn diagram link, Understanding Counseling & Advocacy Services


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.


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STEP Wilderness Therapy Retreat

Once a semester there is a weekend (3 day, 2 night) backpacking and rock climbing retreat with 8-10 JMU students identified as survivors of sexual assault. Certified wilderness guides, Counseling Center clinicians, and an Advocate will also be in attendance. Fall 2021 trip dates TBD. Wilderness activities include backpacking, rock climbing, camp building, leave no-trace education, and survival skills. Most gear will be provided. Additionally, therapeutic elements include therapy process groups, inter- and intra-personal skill building, natural interventions, and self-reflection. For more information contact Leslie Gerrard at or Jackie Hieber at

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.

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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; consider contacting the Counseling Center to utilize consultation services or make an individual appointment to talk about your experience surrounding the sexual assault.

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Who will I talk to if I come into the Counseling Center?

You will be scheduled for an initial assessment appointment with a qualified clinician 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 clinician and client work together to identify goals and directions for treatment.

What is the difference between individual counseling sessions and advocacy services?

Individual counseling and Advocacy services are both confidential resources. Counseling provides an individual space to focus on healing from the trauma, while advocacy may focus on answering questions an individual might have on resources available and reporting processes. For more information about the similarities and differences between counseling and advocacy please use the following Venn diagram link, Understanding Counseling & Advocacy Services

Please note - you may choose to work with a Counseling Center clinician, an advocate, or both. You may also access these services in any order and may move between the two, depending on your needs. Counseling and Advocacy can also coordinate care and collaborate in supporting you, with your permission.

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 clinician 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. You can choose to share your assailant's name during a session or not, however, this information will be kept confidential no matter what.

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 charges 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 clinician talk about my business to other people?

Clinicians are sworn by a code of ethics and Virginia law not to breach client-clinician confidentiality. Within the Counseling Center, your clinician 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.

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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 website.

  • Department of Public Safety- 540-568-6911
    Emergency contact, reporting, and reporting inquiries.
  • OSARP- 540-568-6218
    To learn how JMU defines sexual assault; to learn about the judicial process at JMU.
  • Victim Advocacy - 540-568-6552
    A safe, confidential, welcoming, and inclusive resource for JMU students.
  • Green Dot
    Information about sexual assault education, prevention, and outreach.
Sexual Trauma Off-Campus Resources

Local Services:

State and National Services:

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