These Two Laws Protect You from Sexual Assault on Campus. Know Them.
For colleges and universities, the message from Congress and the White House lately has been loud and clear: Step up and do more to address the epidemic of campus sexual violence. This year, schools face new requirements, and new resources are available for enforcing the laws that can help end campus sexual assault. But many students don’t know what the laws say and how they protect victims’ rights on campus — not just to safety but to accommodations after an assault.
The pair of laws that work together to protect students from sexual violence are the Clery Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Last year, the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization updated the Clery Act, and just this week the U.S. Department of Education took the next step in the process of finalizing the new regulations. The regulations will clarify the updated law, which requires schools to make their campus disciplinary processes more transparent, to train and educate students as well as faculty and staff, and to update sexual assault policies. The updates to the Clery Act also call for gathering new statistics, starting this year, about domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
Meanwhile, the White House and advocates have been raising awareness that Title IX is an invaluable tool to fight campus sexual assault. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education, including protecting students from sexual harassment in all of a school’s programs or activities. Although Title IX is too often known only for its role in women’s sports, the law also requires schools to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects on campus. Title IX also provides the mechanism through which students can file a complaint if schools do not act accordingly. The recent update to the Clery Act doesn’t change Title IX or schools’ obligations but works with it to greatly add to transparency about sexual violence on campus.
A recent White House Task Force report produced resources to help students better understand Title IX’s role in campus sexual assault. And the newly created website NotAlone.gov details for students what responsibilities schools have under Title IX to respond to sexual violence and aims to ensure that students know their rights and how to file a complaint. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating more than 60 schools for Title IX violations related to sexual violence. When campus environments are hostile because of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, students cannot learn, and they miss out on educational opportunities.
Campus sexual assault survivor Dana Bolger, who shared her story at a National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education briefing this week, helped found a campaign to educate college students about their rights under Title IX. Bolger says that school officials suggested she put her education on hold until after her assailant graduated, but once she learned about Title IX, she realized that the school’s response was inappropriate. She decided to take action and complete her education.
“Historically, students have not understood that they had protections under Title IX or what those protections were,” Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president for government relations at Legal Momentum, said at the NCWGE briefing.
Campus sexual assault is critically underreported — certainly in part because, at times, schools have neither made sure students were aware of the law nor done a good job responding to claims. The number of reports is expected to increase as students know their rights and schools improve their responses.
“We will see reported numbers go up before they go down, and we should not be afraid of this,” said Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, at the briefing.
We know that any attempt to sweep the problem under the rug doesn’t change the fact that sexual assault is very much a part of the landscape for college students — women in particular. Instead, we need adherence to the law and proactive steps from schools to ensure that all students can complete their education free from sexual violence.