Guest Commentary

Title IX should be an effective tool in the fight against school violence

Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Mo., students walk past a memorial to victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting on their way to class on May 22, 2018.
Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Mo., students walk past a memorial to victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting on their way to class on May 22, 2018. AP

We need to have an important conversation in our society after the most recent school shooting. It’s not a gun conversation, but a conversation about Title IX, gender violence and the state of toxic masculinity.

Unfortunately, enough research now exists regarding mass shootings to point to a silent epidemic: violence against women. We now know 54 percent of mass shootings are rooted in violence against women. The Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas, shootings were rooted in violence against girls. This isn’t about male bashing. It’s grounded in statistics that show a frightening trend. We must be strong enough to face some uncomfortable truths and act accordingly:

▪ One in five adolescents is a victim of physical or sexual abuse from a dating partner

▪ Only 33 percent of teens who were in a violent relationship told anyone about the abuse.

▪ Eighty-one percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue, or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue.

We’ve failed as a society to address toxic masculinity, and we’ve failed as a society to provide women equal status — or dare I say, equal worth. We’ve failed our boys and girls.

I recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for her blatant attack on Title IX. DeVos entered into office targeting this law, which says women must have access to educational opportunities free from harassment and discrimination. Ironically, DeVos did not turn her attention to comparable and coextensive civil rights law dealing with harassment and discrimination based on race and national origin. With the backing of higher education administrators, she targeted gender-based violence and discrimination to be weakened upon her appointment as secretary.

Why is Title IX involved in this question? Because when people do not understand Title IX as a strong mechanism to increase campus safety, then they will continue to believe nothing can be done about school and mass shootings committed by males.

Did the female victims of this year’s Florida and Texas shooters know they could report the assailant’s prior harassment and violence under Title IX? Were the school teachers and administrators trained on Title IX? Do parents know they could sue a K-12 public school or school district that shows deliberate indifference to gender-based violence on the basis of Title IX?

Then there’s the toxic masculinity piece. We have trained boys to mirror a cultural standard of men who suppress emotion, glorify aggression, deny vulnerability and demean feminine characteristics, except those viewed for sexual benefit.

I train boys, girls, men and women on violence prevention, effective communication and healthy relationships, and have worked with the Kansas City Royals. One of the main points that I stress is how important it is for men to seek help when it is needed. They are not weak for doing so, nor are they soft because they struggle.

I recently visited a Division I athletic department to train the athletes in their program. They showed me the offices for their dedicated sports psychologists and told me they were constantly busy. I asked who uses them. They said, “Mostly the female athletes.”

This issue is destroying the very fabric of our country. Help mend it by supporting Title IX and telling your representatives to support it. Ask your school district to train staff on Title IX. Let students know that they should report inappropriate behavior to school personnel who will handle it in accordance with Title IX standards. Then ask that your school hold training on healthy relationships, effective communication and preventing violence against women.

It’s not too late, but it’s long overdue.

Katherine Redmond is the founder of the Denver-based National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, an organization that advocates for victims and works with athletes to prevent interpersonal violence.