What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal civil rights law, created in 1972 to protect equal access to education in schools that receive federal funding. Title IX governs sex discrimination and is applicable to all sexes and genders.
The purpose of Title IX is to ensure equal access to education; any actions taken by a school under Title IX are done to ensure that a student can access and advance their education.
What does Title IX have to do with sexual assault?
During the 1980s and 1990s, Title IX was usually associated with ensuring fair treatment of women in college sports. In recent years, it has become known as a tool for dealing with sexual harassment and assault on school and college campuses.
Case law has firmly established that sexual violence is an issue of gender-based discrimination, and the 2011 Title IX Guidance to schools issued by the U. S. Department of Education notes: “Sexual harassment of a student can deny or limit, on the basis of sex, the student’s ability to participate in or to receive benefits, services, or opportunities in the school’s program.” Therefore, complaints about sexual harassment and assault should be processed and judged under Title IX.
What is a school’s responsibility in relation to Title IX and sexual harassment and assault?
Schools are responsible for providing equal access to education regardless of sex. When a student cannot access their education due to sexual assault, schools must respond. And they must respond in a timely fashion. Title IX requires colleges and universities to provide “prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee complaints” based on sex discrimination.
It’s not enough to simply respond to complaints, however. Sexual violence is a community issue and needs a community response. Schools are communities. When you attend school, that’s often a huge part of your life. It can determine where you eat (dining halls, cafeterias), where you live (in dorms or in off-campus apartments), and what you do every day.
Schools must take responsibility for sexual violence that occurs within the school community, and create a safe environment for students to pursue an education. That means having clear policies for when someone comes forward as a survivor of sexual violence and fostering a community that prevents sexual violence through trainings and workshops.
The 2011 Title IX Guidance—which has since been rescinded—required schools to respond within a certain time frame to Title IX complaints. It also required schools to help survivors of sexual violence with their immediate needs. Examples of what those accommodations might have looked like (though weren't guaranteed to):
- Allowing survivor to request dorm room change
- Adjusting class schedules
- Extending assignment deadlines for survivors while they cope with their trauma
Now that the 2011 Guidance has been rescinded, the specifics of what the federal government now expects in terms of schools' responsbilities look a little different. More on that below.
Shouldn’t sexual assaults be reported to police?
Title IX and law enforcement address different needs. But they are not mutually exclusive. A survivor can file a Title IX complaint and report the assault to police. Title IX helps the immediate needs of the survivor, particularly in relation to the survivor’s education. Police and the criminal justice system focuses on the offender and bringing a person to trial if they decide there’s enough evidence.
Police and the district attorney are not responsible for making accommodations for the survivor in terms of dorm assignments, class schedules, and extending course deadlines while a survivor seeks treatment for trauma. Those responsibilities lie with the school administration.
What is the interim Title IX Guidance?
The interim guidance—released in September 2017, pending permanent guidance—reinterprets Title IX and how schools should be compliant with Title IX. Based on BARCC’s experience with Title IX, the interim guidance is a step back and will likely result in decreased consistency from school to school and case to case.
Previous Title IX guidance clearly stated the processes schools should use to handle sexual violence in school and on campus. With that guidance, many schools made positive progress in how they handled sexual violence in school and on campus. In the six years since the 2011 Guidance was issued, many schools have made significant progress in addressing the problem.
In April, the AAU released an extensive report summarizing its survey of 55 of the 62 leading research universities that make up its membership on the impact of the Title IX Guidance. It found that every school surveyed had newly “developed, redefined, or enhanced programs to assist victims of sexual assault and misconduct.” Ninety-five percent of them are also sharing information about assaults among college departments—making it easier to find patterns of behavior and implement effective, evidence-based methods of prevention. Most of them (90%) have also increased resources to train students and staff on prevention and safe ways for bystanders to intervene or report an assault.
The interim guidance allows mediation as an option, which goes against best practice in the field of sexual violence. Mediation approaches a case as having two equally balanced parties. When it comes to sexual violence, there’s a clear imbalance of power, so mediation is not appropriate.
When it comes down to it, we must remember the root of all of this national conversation; the previous Title IX guidance wasn’t the problem, sexual violence is the problem.
Something that is important to note is that, despite recent changes in Title IX guidance, schools are still bound to uphold any policies they currently have in place, until and unless they make any changes to those policies (which should be done in a transparent and well-communicated manner).
How does the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center work with Title IX?
Our legal advocates offer information and support to students and schools related to Title IX. That can include talking with a client on the phone or in person, referring clients to lawyers, and helping clients understand their options under Title IX.
Although media reports sometimes leave the impression that Title IX proceedings favor those making sexual assault complaints, that has not been BARCC’s experience.
What can I do to support Title IX on my campus or in my community?
You can reach out to your individual Title IX coordinator and the administration, share your perspectives, and tell them that robust efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence are important to you.
If you’re a student, your administration has a responsibility to send a clear message that sexual violence will not be tolerated and offenders will be held accountable by the school community. You can remind the administration that there is always additional work to be done and your suggestions for addressing any gaps.
You can also talk to your legislators and let them know that this issue is important to you.
All educational institutions should be required to meet standards that allow for all students to fully engage in their education. Massachusetts should be a leader in the country in reinforcing guidelines for all schools that protect students from sexual harassment and assault.