Speaking of Women's Rights: 05/19

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!