Title IX, passed in 1972, is a law that requires gender equality for men and women in educational programs that receive federal funding. Since then, there have been multiple investigations into schools and institutions to see if they were complying with Title IX standards. Coincidentally, I’m currently writing a sample appellate brief on a case that involves this very statute. Title IX particularly affected student athletics at universities and complaints under the statute cropped up when universities cut women’s athletic teams or failed to create as many athletic opportunities for female students as there were for men. However, Title IX is now being applied to more than just student athletics.
In 2011, a “Dear Colleague” letter written by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stated that sexual harassment of a student restricts that student’s right to an education free from discrimination. The letter goes on to state that it is the responsibility of the universities “to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence” under Title IX. In an ideal world, schools would be working their hardest to reduce the amount of sexual assaults on campus and helping survivors put their rapists in jail. Unfortunately, in recent years it has been revealed that many schools have continuously and knowingly covered up the amount of sexual assaults done to their students. Time and time again, rape survivors have come forward to share their devastating experience with school administrators silencing and ostracizing them after confessing they’d been raped. Most commonly, school officials don’t believe that the victim was actually raped and that they just regret their mistakes the next morning. The rapist usually never gets punished and interacts with their victims on a regular basis after the assault. In the White House Report, Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action, “college survivors suffer high rates of PTSD, depression, and drug or alcohol abuse, which can hamper their ability to succeed in school.”
In the past four years, there have been an increasing number of complaints filed by students claiming that their university is violating Title IX through failing to respond to sexual harassment and assault concerns thus creating a hostile environment. In 2011, this list included Yale, Amherst College, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Women who were sexually assaulted at these schools then joined together, and by working with other students at other universities, they filed more complaints citing violations of Title IX. There is a coalition of 800 sexual assault survivors and allies called Know Your IX, who are working to fight campus rape culture. This includes when schools aren’t following their legal obligations to prevent rape and when rape cases aren’t treated properly by the authorities. Angie Epifano, a student at Amherst, writes about her assault and aftermath in a tragic and brave essay. Amherst officials refused to move her out of the dorm where her rapist lived with her and recommended that she simply move-on after this “bad hookup”.
Personally, I was unaware that the Title IX statute could be used in this way but I’m extremely glad that it is. Part of rape culture is not believing the victim and/or blaming the victim when they have done nothing wrong. By requiring investigations under Title IX to inspect schools on how they deal with sexual assaults on campus, the schools will be forced to change their policies and learn that they can’t cover up campus rapes anymore. 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted while in college and this rate is increasing. Hopefully through Title IX federal cases, more and more schools will start protecting their students instead of ignoring them.