#HandsOffIX: Proposed Changes to Title IX Fail Sexual Assault Survivors


Betsy DeVos, the United States Secretary of Education, has proposed changes to Title IX, a federal civil rights law which is meant to protect students from sex discrimination within education programs. These changes would severely undermine the rights of sexual assault survivors. Shiwali Patel with National Women’s Law Center helps us understand the dangers these changes to Title IX may bring.

Title IX has broad coverage, and includes everything from admissions and recruitment to financial aid, housing, and requiring schools to respond to sexual harassment by taking certain actions. All students and employees are protected, and Title IX covers kindergarten through higher education. It’s important to keep in mind that Title IX covers schools that are funded by federal programs, which applies to almost all universities because they receive federal grants. For K-12, however, private schools are not typically covered by Title IX.

Title IX isn’t just for college students; the proposed changes to Title IX are concerning in when we know that nearly 1 in 5 girls ages 14-18 report being kissed or touched without their consent. Sexual harassment can be a number of things, including unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, physical or verbal misconduct, and sexual assault, among other forms. Title IX covers a lot of this behavior, which is why it is of utmost importance for schools to respond appropriately in these situations.

While in college, 1 in 5 undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted, 1 in 18 men will be sexually assaulted, and 1 in 4 transgender or non-binary students will be sexually assaulted. While it is extremely prevalent, about 88% of on-campus sexual assaults are not reported at all. Title IX does not require sexual assault survivors report to the police, and many students often feel uncomfortable approaching the police about their sexual assault for fear of perpetuated myths or re-traumatization. The school itself is the only entity that is mandated to respond to a sexual assault under Title IX. These accommodations may include changing a student’s housing, changing a student’s classes, or offering extensions on assignments and exams for someone who needs it.

The changes being proposed to Title IX would make schools more dangerous for students, tilting the scales in favor of named harassers if the school would decide to investigate. In fact, before a grievance process would even begin, these changes would essentially force a school to ignore any assault or harassment that has taken place.

The new proposed rule would require schools to ignore sexual harassment cases until the harassed student has been denied equal access to education, which the school would likely interpret as truancy, missing classes, or dropping out. This would mean that a student would have to feel so unsafe that they refused to enter their school. If a school’s sexual harassment case fails to meet this narrow standard, then it will be dropped. On top of this, only a small subset of school employees would be responsible for addressing harassment, meaning a school would not be need to address harassment unless there is knowledge by the Title IX coordinator only (this doesn’t include other teachers or professors, coaches, resident advisors, etc.) Schools would also be required to dismiss a complaint of the student in question states that the harassment occurred outside of a school activity, which would include off-campus housing or fraternity houses that aren’t considered part of an educational activity.

If there is an investigation, there are a multitude of processes that the school is required to implement. Institutions of higher education will require a live hearing allowing victims to be cross-examined during the live hearing.

Ultimately, letting these proposed changes go into effect would send the message that sexual assault and harassment victims on school campuses don’t matter, and that they aren’t protected by their schools. It will impact whether students report their harassment and assault.

The good news is that these are not the final rules, yet and there is still time to take action to stop them from going into effect.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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