How Does Title IX Protect Victims of Sexual Assault?
American college campuses have a serious problem regarding sexual assault. Not only were 1 in 5 college students victims of sexual assault in 2015, but reporting rates can run as low as 5%.
The reasons for not reporting instances can vary amongst victims—embarrassment, emotional difficulty, fear of judgment—and there is no shame in not reporting if you’re not ready to tell your story. But if you are ready, you should be able to tell someone in pursuit of justice and accountability.
According to the Association of American Universities, however, more than 6 in 10 victims are reluctant to tell authority figures about their experiences in sexual assault because they fear that the person they tell won’t take them seriously. This belief is not without warrant. Many sexual assault victims have had the sad experience of confiding in someone and being met with doubt, scrutiny, and dismissal.
Title IX and Sexual Assault
What many people don’t know, though, is that there is a law that directly requires school administrators to take these stories seriously: Title IX. Many people understand Title IX in the form that it prohibits sex discrimination in college admissions and sports, not realizing that it also protects victims of sexual violence and assault.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education released a letter reminding institutions of higher education that sexual assault is a form of sex discrimination and that they have a duty to address complaints of sexual assault. According to the letter, schools have a “responsibility to to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence.”
Okay, but do schools actually adhere to Title IX?
Not adhering to Title IX can produce consequences for universities if they are caught. The Department of Education released a report in May 2014 that announced pending investigations of 55 universities who had not properly handled sexual assault issues. Two months after the report was released, the number had jumped to 67.
Not only is this information bad press for the schools being investigated, but it poses a financial threat as well. The report made clear that all schools that receive federal funding (basically all public and private colleges and universities) must comply with Title IX. If they are found to have not complied, they can lose federal funds and/or be referred to the Department of Justice for further action.
What do I do if my administration is violating Title IX?
Now that you know that schools have to take your sexual assault story seriously, you can walk into your school’s admin offices armed with that information. Hopefully, the person you’re talking to will handle your case with care, but if you feel like you’re not being taken seriously by a school employee, remind them that they are violating their Title IX responsibilities.
If they don’t change their behavior after that warning and you still feel like you’re being blown off, you can file a complaint.
What are my resources?
It can be really scary recounting your story to an administrator who is a total stranger and knows nothing about you. But if you’re ready to take that leap, you do have resources. Many schools have victim resource centers or on-campus therapists that can help you work through whatever you’re going through, but it differs between institutions, so do some research on what resources your college provides for victims.
One thing to keep in mind is that many school employees are “mandatory reporters,” meaning that if you report an instance of sexual assault to them, they have to report it to the relevant authorities. Not all people are seeking that course of action and would rather just find someone on campus that can help them handle their experience in a confidential manner. So before you start talking, ask if the person you’re with if they’re a mandatory reporter and make sure their responsibilities line up with your goals.