With another new school year upon us, many students may find themselves to be new survivors of assault, harassment, or bullying. What they might not know is that they have protections during these difficult situations thanks to Title IX. Most people think of Title IX as the legislature that advanced women athletes’ rights in high schools and colleges. Title IX does play this important role in the sports world, but it also provides legislation and protection for students of all genders who are facing sexual harassment and violence.
Title IX was implemented in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments Act. This act was a product of the Civil Rights Movement and aimed to deter educational programs from supporting sex discrimination. The text of Title IX reads, “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.” In other words, Title IX makes it mandatory for educational facilities that receive money from the federal government–like school districts, universities and colleges, libraries, and museums–to protect participating in their programs against discrimination due to their sex. If a facility does not comply, they will lose their federal funding.
Under Title IX, schools are legally required to respond to and remedy hostile educational environments. This specifically covers cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Title IX dictates that high schools and universities need to have an established procedure to handle claims of sexual discrimination, harassment, and violence. Schools are also prohibited from retaliating against someone who files a complaint; they cannot take action to harm the person filing the complaint, nor can they ignore any retaliatory harassment that the survivor may experience from other students. Schools additionally are unable to discourage survivors from continuing their education at that facility and must provide resources for that student’s success.
Filing a Title IX report looks different for minors than it does for those over 18. People like teachers and counselors are typically mandatory reporters–people who are required by law to report Title IX cases to law enforcement, child protective services, child abuse hotlines, and the like. These cases may therefore lead to a criminal investigation with police, which may not be ideal for all survivors. If a minor reports any sort of sexual violence to these mandatory reporters, the reporters must disclose the incident. States have varying laws on which professionals are mandatory reporters, so check the resources below.
Regardless of age, educational facilities all have an official Title IX Coordinator who will handle the logistics of a Title IX report and advocate for survivors’ rights on campus. If your Title IX case is addressed by a mandatory reporter, the Coordinator will reach out to you. If you are over 18, you are not obligated to respond to your Coordinator. At any age, you also have the ability to meet with the Coordinator to report your case. The Title IX Coordinator will discuss your situation and evaluate what steps need to be made in order to make your educational experience safe.
If you are over 18, your institution’s Title IX Coordinator will present you with the option to open an official investigation. If an investigation goes in favor if the survivor, various forms of sentences can be given and can include protections like no-contact orders, class schedule changes, and in some cases, even removing the perpetrator from the school. These investigations are separate from filing a criminal case with law enforcement. In most cases, you are not obligated to file a case with law enforcement. If your perpetrator has been named in other Title IX cases and/or is particularly aggressive, the Title IX Coordinator may have to open an investigation against your wishes. These investigations may ultimately go to law enforcement. This Coordinator loophole works to protect others students from repeat offenders.
Title IX Coordinators are obligated by law to provide fair and equal treatment to both the survivor and the perpetrator (typically referred to as “complainant” and “respondent” in Title IX cases) and therefore are limited in their roles. They are not law enforcement, but they should provide you with as many resources as they are able. With that being said, there is due process for those who believe they have been denied resources or discriminated against by their school’s Title IX Coordinator. Discrimination complaints are handled by the United States Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR has three different ways to file the complaint–online (see resources below), through the mail or via fax, or by email. Precedents set during the Obama Administration are still in effect, and the OCR will investigate a school’s Title IX office, case files, and other incidents upon receiving the complaint. Again, your educational facility legally cannot retaliate against you for filing this formal complaint.
A special note to LGBT+ students:
The definition of the word “sex” as it pertains to Title IX fluctuates. This variation is due to the fact that Supreme Court decisions and guidance from the US Department of Education lay the foundations for Title IX cases. Each individual school can further define their Title IX protections, but many will follow the lead of the Supreme Court and Department of Education. Therefore, guidelines can, and often do, change with the switching of presidential administrations. The Trump Administration has recommended that “sex” not include gender but rather refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth. However, many institutions still consider the term “sex” to include gender, as per an Obama administration-era precedent. Check your institution’s code of conduct for any ambiguous language regarding sex and gender, and find out if they also abide by the Obama-era precedent.
Bullying and harassment based on a student’s sexuality or gender are covered in most institutions’ definition of “sex.” When it comes to sexual violence, all educational facilities are still required by law to protect all students, regardless of the perpetrator’s and survivor’s gender or sexuality. LGBT+ survivors have the same rights under Title IX to special accommodations to their learning environments, prompt and equitable complaint processes, and freedom from retaliation. Issues that fall into Title IX jurisdiction include access to bathrooms, changing facilities, and residential halls; dress codes; names and pronouns; and any other gender-based harassment, bullying, or violence that a student may experience because they are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.
Nuances with Title IX cases do vary, and not every case will reach the conclusion that the survivor desires. But with the staggering statistics regarding child sexual abuse and campus sexual abuse, it is necessary that all students know their rights regarding Title IX. You have support, and this resource can empower you through your experience. You deserve a safe environment to pursue your education.
For more information and resources, check out these links:
Sexual Assault and the LGBTQ Community
Statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center