I am troubled by the recent announcement made by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that changes will be made to existing Title IX guidelines that protect survivors of sexual assault. While the changes have not been defined, DeVos expressed concern that current policies do not provide adequate justice for accused perpetrators, sending the message that Title IX will be altered in favor of the accused perpetrators and not the survivors.
Title IX is a federal law that protects against gender discrimination in K-12 and higher education institutions that are receiving federal funding. Title IX does not specifically mention sexual violence, but over the years the courts and Department of Education have consistently considered sexual violence a form of gender-based discrimination.
In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter that outlined best practices for educational institutions to address Title IX implementation and the issue of sexual violence on campuses. The letter provided schools a better understanding of the processes and procedures they should implement in order to be compliant with the law. Title IX and the letter have helped schools become more open in discussing the issues of sexual violence on their campuses and clarified the practices, support and accommodations needed to keep survivors safe and successful on campus.
College students are at a high risk for experiencing sexual violence. We know that 19 percent of women and 6 percent of men will experience sexual violence before they graduate from college. LGBTQ students are even more likely to experience sexual violence because of their gender identity. Putting statistics and arguments aside, we can all agree that rape and sexual violence are destructive crimes that can cause lifelong trauma and harm to survivors. These survivors deserve access to services, to know their rights and to receive accommodations to ensure their safety on campus. Because of the controversy around these proposed changes, I’m concerned that survivors of sexual assault will think that they have lost their Title IX protections and won’t seek the accommodations they deserve at their schools.
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Title IX isn’t just about disciplinary hearings for accused rapists. It’s about accommodating survivors so they can feel safe and advocate for the changes they need to try to stabilize their lives after the trauma of sexual assault. Title IX accommodations can include things like moving into a new dorm room or switching their class schedule so they don’t have to be confronted by their rapist on a daily basis.
In addition to providing survivors of sexual violence resources to ensure proper accommodations are being made and safety concerns are addressed, Title IX also gives survivors a voice while making the issue of sexual violence on campus more visible. Awareness and prevention education in schools on the issue of sexual violence has helped remove the stigma of sexual violence, encourage survivors to come forward, and prevent sexual violence in the first place.
The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault stands by survivors and will continue to advocate for their rights, including protecting the progress that has been made with the implementation of Title IX. There is still a massive justice gap for victims of sexual assault and prioritizing the needs of those accused of rape over the survivors will continue to hurt survivors of sexual assault and allow sexual violence to continue in our neighborhoods, schools and communities.
Our organization will stand with survivors because we strongly believe that making such alterations to Title IX would be taking a step back in the protection of victims of sexual violence.
Julie Donelon is president and CEO of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault in Kansas City.