Speaking of Women's Rights: 2019

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Title IX is Under Attack. These High Schoolers are Doing Something About It.

By Phil Bouie, Legal Voice Development Officer

“As a student and a woman, I deserve to have laws that protect against violence and assault.”

–Scarlett, high school senior & Title IX activist

What may seem like a reasonable public safety request on campuses has resulted in policy proposals that ultimately strip institutions of accountability, further muddle schools' ability to adhere to their code of conduct bylaws, and complicate the process for reporting gender-based violence. If you wanted to find an impractical example of policy failing future generations of this country, this would be Exhibit A.

Spurred on by a sexual assault that took place at their high school last year, Maya and Scarlett found themselves face-to-face with Washington State legislators this past February. Legal Voice helped them prepare to testify before the House College & Workforce Development Committee in support of a bill that aimed to create a task force on Title IX protections and compliance.

While the legislation ultimately failed to pass in the legislative session, the high school activists received an up-close look at the process.

“I learned a lot about how the legal system works and how bills are passed,” commented Maya. Scarlett added, “And how difficult it can be to make productive change in our laws.”

They had initially come to Legal Voice because they were not completely confident in the way their high school administration handled the assault at their school. They wanted to learn more about their rights.

“Everyone was required to take health in ninth grade but it wasn’t a great course,” said Maya. “There were a lot of holes in the curriculum. I might not remember because it was four years ago, but I don’t think we had anything about sexual assault.”

Given the prevalence of the conversation surrounding sexual assault, it seems more than a bit unsettling that during the most impressionable and impactful years of a young person’s life, there are no clear academic guidelines on what sexual assault is. Who should you see in the aftermath? What are your rights?

“We’ve learned a lot more about our rights by helping Legal Voice than any school has ever taught us. I think that’s super important,” remarked Scarlett.

As much as we enjoy educating people about their rights, if high schools aren’t laying the proper foundation in regards to educating about sexual assault and consent, how are colleges that are being stripped of Title IX protections going to do any better?

If the Trump Administration's proposed Title IX changes are enacted, there will be serious consequences for victims and survivors of sexual assault. By raising the legal standard of evidence, schools will discourage victims from coming forward and confronting their accusers. Changes will also allow cross-examinations, evidence in investigative proceedings available to both parties and eliminate restrictions on parties’ rights to speak about allegations.

We cannot and will not stand for this.

The next generation of students should be able to trust that their institutions of higher learning and the law have their best interests at heart. How is that possible when schools can’t be held responsible if an assault happens off campus? In the case of the University of Washington and many other schools, “on campus” could be right across the street. The next generation shouldn’t have to schedule bake sales where tasty treats are exchanged for pamphlets on Title IX, sexual assault, and consent. The next generation shouldn’t have to drive to Olympia to make sure adults, who graduated long ago, don’t strip them of their agency or their right to a conflict-free education.

We owe it to the future of this country to make sure there is space for young people to be heard, and most importantly, ensure they are safe and secure in their academic environment. Stripping Title IX of its faculties would be an egregious mistake. Let’s fund the future we want to see today!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Books Behind Bars: How Title IX Protects Incarcerated Students’ Rights

By Olivia Ortiz

In the United States of America, more than two million people are currently incarcerated. Many prisons and jails offer vocational programs, which can and do have powerful effects on incarcerated people in their reentry into society outside the prison walls. Like any other students in a federally-funded educational program, incarcerated students are guaranteed protection against sex discrimination by Title IX. However, incarcerated students still experience significant barriers to these educational programs, in large part because they are not granted the rights due to them. Incarcerated students and their advocates can utilize Title IX as a fulcrum to fight for the education which is their legal right and which they deserve.

Incarcerated students have worked tirelessly to fight for recognition under Title IX. In Jeldness v. Pearce, incarcerated women sued the Oregon State Department of Corrections (OSDC), alleging sex discrimination. The OSDC’s women’s prison offered only two vocational courses: office administration and cosmetology. Two OSDC prisons for men offered twelve courses. Women were permitted access to these courses. However, OSDC cited “penological necessity” to force invasive searches on women attending courses at the men’s prison. These invasive searches frequently made women late to class, often so late that they could not attend class at all. Furthermore, men were paid for participating in certain classes. Women were not.

In 1994, the Ninth District Court of Appeals held in Jeldness that Title IX and its regulations protected incarcerated students in vocational programs. Although a prison may not be considered a traditional educational institution, the fact that a prison receives federal funding for such programs requires that prisons follow Title IX. The court held that “penological necessity” does not exempt prisons from compliance with Title IX. (Jeldness, 30 F.3d at 1229–1230) Further, the court held that paying men, but not women, for the same course constituted not only disparate impact but disparate treatment under Title IX.

Although courts and regulations have repeatedly and explicitly stated that Title IX protects incarcerated students, those students require further support to make their rights a reality. Incarcerated people face high rates of sexual violence not only by fellow incarcerated people but also by those who should be enforcing their rights: prison staff and administrators. The Survived and Punished Project has several resources for supporting incarcerated people. Organizations supporting survivors should explore offering Title IX workshops to prisons and uplifting incarcerated students’ voices in their advocacy. Individuals can support incarcerated students by becoming involved with and donating to projects like Survived and Punished.

The beauty of Title IX lies in its broad applicability. The character of the law affords students protection even at non-traditional campuses like prisons. Still, unlawful obstacles obstruct these students from their legal rights. Title IX, survivor, and anti-carceral advocates must consider how Title IX regulations, like those proposed by the Trump Administration, impact incarcerated students. If incarcerated students’ Title IX rights exist only in theory, incarcerated students do not have Title IX rights. It is only when incarcerated students can access their rights in reality that Title IX promises anything at all.

Olivia Ortiz is a leader of Legal Voice's Campus Sexual Assault Work Group. She is a first year JD student at the University of Washington School of Law and tweets at @ortizoliviaa

Image credit: Simon Booth-Lucking | CC BY-NC 2.0