For decades, Title IX has been an important tool for students and activists, paving the way for increased equality in education for girls, women, and gender nonbinary students. But today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released proposed rules that would turn back the clock, making it more difficult for sexual harassment victims to stay in school, and decreasing schools’ accountability in preventing and responding to sexual violence. The Gender Equality Law Center strongly condemns these regulations.
Sexual harassment is an epidemic in our schools, and it can harm students at all stages of their education. According to a study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), 56 percent of girls in grades K-12 were sexually harassed during the span of a single school year. The Department of Justice reports that 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted while in college.
To eliminate sexual harassment in our schools, we need a much more robust enforcement of Title IX as it stands. The extensive regulations proposed by the Department of Education would not protect students from sexual harassment; instead, they would chip away at existing Title IX protections, reducing schools’ obligations toward victims and increasing their obligations to students who may pose a danger to their campuses.
Some of the rules we are most concerned about would:
Narrow the definition of sexual harassment that requires a response from the school, limiting recourse for some students who are harassed or assaulted off-campus, or who are able to continue attending school despite the harassment;
The cumulative effect of these rules is that fewer students will be empowered to report sexual harassment and violence. Those who do report will face an uphill battle; many will be exposed to even greater harms due to requirements that they have further direct contact with their harassers or attackers. As a result, many girls and women will be pushed out of school.
These rules are not final, yet. The public will have 60 days to submit a comment, though GELC has joined with several organizations in requesting for an extended comment period. Stay tuned for more information on this process. GELC implores all students, parents, teachers, and community members to take a stand for Title IX and for the rights of all girls, women, and students whose educations have suffered due to sexual harassment and violence.