Sexual Violence Slips Past Legislation

titleixtableTitle IX, the most widely known portion of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, bans discrimination based on sex in schools receiving federal aid.

However, there are a number of popular colleges and universities around the country are currently facing lawsuits, federal complaints, and federal investigations for failing to comply with all provisions of Title IX.

Though the majority of schools meet most requirements, the area that many schools have “slipped” in is the prohibition of sexual harassment and sexual violence, which are defined by the White House government website as acts “such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.”

Title IX requires that schools take immediate measures to respond to these situations, should they arise, but this is specifically where many schools have repeatedly failed.

In addition to the requirements about responding to sexual violence stipulated in Title IX, schools are required by both the Clery Act of 1990 and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights of 1992 to keep records of sexual violence on campus, and to have these records available to the public; this is another area where colleges have repeatedly failed.

The statistics available about sexual violence on campuses is harrowing. According to the National Institute of Justice, a part of the United States Justice Department, one in four women in college have been the victim of rape or attempted rape; another study from the White House recorded the number as one in five, with only 12% of assaults reported.

The study from the White House also found that no one is more likely to be raped than a woman in college. Colleges with 10,000 students, statistically, could be the sites of up to 350 rapes per year. 80-90% of rapes are by a person known by the victim, yet less than 5% of rapes (attempted or completed) of college women are reported to law enforcement.

Even when sexual violence is not reported to the police, schools are required to respond if they have any knowledge at all of the incident. Another study done by the National Institute of Justice found that only one third of colleges fully comply with requirements set by the Clery Act; most schools vastly underreport sexual assault.

According to the Huffington Post, Last April, a group of 37 students, alumni and faculty at Occidental College filed a federal complaint against the school for violating Title IX, creating a hostile environment, and failing to adequately penalize students “found guilty of sexual misconduct.”

In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights began an investigation of Yale University for possible violations of Title IX; in the end, the school was fined $155,000 for a Clery Act Violation. This past November, a federal sex discrimination lawsuit was filed by a group of current and former students against the University of Connecticut.

This lawsuit is an addition to the two federal complaints already filed against the university, which asked the Department of Education to investigate the school on the grounds of Title IX and Clery Act violations.  Federal complaints against Amherst and Vanderbilt were also filed in November.

The complaints filed against Amherst stated that the school has failed to provide resources for victims of sexual violence, and has underreported sexual assaults on campus. According to the Huffington Post, the school has also been cited for fostering of a “sexually hostile environment,” using examples such as the cheer “Give us your virgins, but only the hot ones,” shouted from male dorms, and a widely distributed t-shirt that depicts a woman clad in only a bra and a thong, bruises on her side and an apple in her mouth, hog-tied on a spit above a fire; the text above the image read “Roasting Fat Ones Since 1847.”

One complainant, a woman named Angie Epifano, wrote an Op-Ed for Amherst’s newspaper, detailing the way administration had reacted to her reporting her rape in 2011 in a dorm on campus; she was institutionalized and the rapist was not charged with any crime.

Another complainant, who remained unnamed, stated she was the survivor of sexual assault in 2010 and rape in 2012; when she told a school counselor about the rape, they did nothing to follow through. These complaints have sparked discussion across the Amherst campus and campuses around the country about sexist culture and the unfortunate history so many schools have of covering up sexual violence and failing to both punish rapists and provide support for victims.

The increased discussion around the issue and the recent White House study on sexual assault (conducted by the White House Council on Women and Girls) has also had impact on a higher level. President Obama recently announced the launch of an initiative to combat sexual assault, especially assault on college campuses. In his announcement, Obama also called for a cultural shift, and asked that men become invested in this issue, stating, “I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure, in terms of how they’re supposed to behave and treat women. That starts before they get to college. Those of us who are fathers have an obligation to transmit that information. We can do more to make sure that every man out there — in junior high, high school and college — understands what’s expected of them, and what it means to be a man, and to intervene if they see someone else acting inappropriately.” He continued on to say “We need to encourage young people, both men and women, to realize that sexual assault is unacceptable” ( The formation of this government initiative and the agenda of social change is promising, and will hopefully have a large impact across the country. Until situations have improved, however, it is important that everyone know the rights Title IX gives them.

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