Anyone planning to report sexual harassment at a university should approach the process carefully, experts say. The reason? Federal laws require a university to act if it knows of any alleged harassment.

This includes the equal opportunity officer you might tell in preliminary talk about your concern. In fact, technically, any department chair or leader--anyone considered a university representative--is obligated to act on knowledge of harassment, says Illinois State University's Douglas Lamb, PhD, who researches student and faculty grievances. Even confiding in peers could backfire because "another student might tell another faculty member," he notes.

Lamb suggests that those wishing to weigh the strength of their cases do the following:

  • Make sure that what's happening constitutes harassment. Read policies and definitions carefully.

  • Talk about your concern with a neutral party. Find someone trustworthy, not involved and not obligated to report harassment.

  • Present your case in the hypothetical. Find out how officials would handle a case such as yours before deciding to pursue it.