Speaking of Women's Rights: Title IX and Sexual Violence: Tackling More Than Sports

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Title IX and Sexual Violence: Tackling More Than Sports

by Megan Veith

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).

When most people think of Title IX, they think of sports. As a female student athlete, I benefited greatly from Title IX, being able to play soccer, volleyball, track, tennis, and swimming just like my male classmates. However, Title IX benefits girls (and boys) in another critical way: it helps ensure that schools don’t ignore allegations of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.

How does the law do this?  A 2011 letter by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights explains that the law imposes crucial obligations on schools to not stay silent about sexual violence. Importantly, Title IX effectively requires schools that know, or reasonably should know, of possible sexual violence to immediately investigate the situation. If the sexual violence occurred, the school must take prompt and effective steps to stop the violence, prevent it from happening again, and address the effects of the violence. Finally, the school must provide an avenue for students to bring Title IX complaints, including ones of sexual violence.

These obligations on schools are particularly important because one in four women will survive a rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates college. Men are also victims of sexual violence at school. Moreover, a recent study by the National Institute of Justice found that schools are grossly underprepared in sexual assault awareness training and education and only about 50% of schools have “specific sexual assault policy goals.”

Facts like these are taking a front page in the news recently as a number of students from at least 5 universities have filed Title IX complaints against their schools for failing to effectively respond to rape and sexual assault allegations, including the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.  These complaints illustrate a range of problems.  For example, the complaint against USC alleges that a student was told not to discuss her sexual assault case with the police and that her experience wasn’t sexual assault because her attacker didn’t orgasm. The UNC complaint alleges that the school administration underreported the number of sexual assaults on campus and was hostile to victims that refused to remain silent about the violence committed against them.

In addition to the official complaints, students nationwide are organizing advocacy campaigns, raising awareness, and taking a stand. Unlike many groups before them, however, they have an important way to spread the word about what’s really going on at schools – social media. Activists are effectively and powerfully educating others through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blog posts, and other online media outlets. A website, “Know Your Title IX,” has been set up just to empower students and inform people about their Title IX rights and help students report violence, change their school, support a survivor, and spread the word - an excellent step in working toward effective change.

Whether through filing a complaint, organizing an advocacy campaign, or raising awareness, ending the silence about campus sexual violence is critical to ending the violence.  While everyone has different experiences with sexual violence and no one can pretend to feel what a survivor does, it is important that everyone share their own experiences with sexual violence to make others aware of how prevalent it is and to help schools change their policies.

Speaking from my own experiences, throughout my educational experiences, I have received rape threats from multiple male classmates. I learned what it’s like to fear going to school the next day and to wonder if school administrators would take my complaints seriously while protecting my identity. I learned what it’s like to fear that people will find out what happened and blame me, complaining that I take things too personally or don't understand a "joke." I know what it's like to wonder that if I didn’t say anything, whether those classmates would carry out a similar threat on someone else. I know what it's like to live with regret that I chose to remain silent and did not effectively use my Title IX rights.

No one – ABSOLUTELY NO ONE – should fear going to school, to learn, to succeed. This is why Title IX is in place. Women and men are using Title IX to protect themselves and future generations from the inhumanity that is sexual violence. It is critical that all of us know our Title IX rights and spread the word to others so that all forms of sexual violence come to an end and that schools carry out on their undeniable obligation to protect their students.

Megan Veith is currently a legal intern at Legal Voice. She just finished her second year at Georgetown University Law Center, after graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Washington. Megan is a strong advocate for women’s rights and is thrilled at the opportunity to fight for equality for all people at Legal Voice.

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