Being that we are an organization committed to making sure our student peers know and understand their rights, we have decided to release this statement concerning Betsy DeVos changing Title IX protections. We would first like to explain what Title IX is and why it’s so important. Then, we hope to outline things our university and others can do to continue supporting students who were victims of sexual assault. We want these students, now and in the future, to know that we see them, we hear them, and we support them.
The official ACLU website outlines Title IX as being: “a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding.
Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault. A college or university that receives federal funds may be held legally responsible when it knows about and ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs or activities. The school can be held responsible in court whether the harassment is committed by a faculty member, staff, or a student. In some cases, the school must pay the victim money damages.”
Other things to note about Title IX (also on ACLU website):
- Sexual harassment can qualify as discrimination under Title IX if it is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.” Courts have generally found that even a single instance of rape or sexual assault by another student meets this standard.
- To be held responsible, the college or university must have authority over the harasser and over the environment in which the harassment takes place.
According to the Supreme Court, a school becomes legally responsible when the school’s response to harassment “is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.”
- The Supreme Court has ruled that a college or university receiving federal funding may have to pay damages to the victim of student-on student sexual harassment or assault if the victim can show that the college acted with “deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment in its programs or activities.”
This law ensures that victims of assault during their time in college stand protected and can hold their university responsible if these acts are ignored. While we recognize that men are and have been victims of assault and rape, it is important to understand that these things are much more pervasive in the lives of women. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) has some statistics listed on their website:
- Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
- Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.
Recently, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, rescinded some Title IX protections put in place by the Obama Administration. She has since come under fire as the changes she made will make it easier for universities to get away with being passive in cases of sexual assault. In the past, DeVos has been accused of showing support for those who were accused of sexual assault on campus and of not listening to assault victims. While some argue that these measures are to ensure that innocent men don’t get punished for a crime they didn’t commit, statistics show that this is rare. Only between 2 and 10% of all rape accusations are proven false, and false rape accusations almost never have serious consequences.
Currently, all rape accusations require a formal judgment from the university and an investigation within a 60-day period. DeVos is saying that this puts too much pressure on universities. She is now planning to allow schools to “facilitate an informal resolution process” as long as both parties agree. She also wants to remove any deadlines in place for investigations into assault cases. The new guidance will also allow schools to have a higher standard of evidence that an assault occurred. Up until now, schools only needed to be 50% sure an assault took place. Title IX guidelines will still require schools to have a Title IX coordinator and to report all cases of assault.
What can we do to support victims?
If you are an SJU student, you can read through our school’s Title IX guide here. Our campus Title IX coordinator is Yael Wepman. The school encourages students to speak to her for the following reasons:
- You wish to understand your options if you think you may have encountered sex discrimination or sexual misconduct
- You learn of a situation that you feel may warrant a University investigation
- You need help on how to handle a situation by which you are indirectly affected
- You seek guidance on possible methods of de-escalating or alleviating a difficult situation
- You have questions on St. John’s policies and procedures
We can all encourage our Title IX coordinator to stand by the current regulations on our campus, regardless of the changes being made by DeVos. We can ask that our school hold a seminar for students to talk about our rights under Title IX as well as how to report things and who to report them to. This can be a way for students to meet with the Title IX coordinator and get comfortable talking to her.
If you are NOT an SJU student:
- Figure out who your Title IX coordinator is
- Encourage students to familiarize themselves with the coordinator
- Encourage your university to stand by the old regulations
- Ask questions about your school’s policies and procedures in regard to sexual assault
- Report situations that you feel may warrant an investigation
- Encourage students to learn their rights
We also encourage all students to read about Title IX on the ACLU website and learn about other resources for assault victims and other means of reporting assault. We are all standing with you at this time, and we promise to challenge these changes and hold our universities to higher standards when it comes to student safety.