*Trigger Warning* Please do not continue reading this article if you will have a negative response to any of the following topics: sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, sexual violence.
Universities have a notorious reputation of brushing over sexual assault cases to protect their public image. People rarely feel comfortable coming forward about the situation, and a lot of times the school doesn’t take necessary action to provide a comfortable learning environment for those who experience sexual assault or harassment. According to genprogress.org, less than one third of those accused of rape are not expelled. New Title IX laws may give universities federal authority to increase their lack of action and continue to brush over these cases.
On May 6th, 2020, the Federal Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, released a collection of new laws that outlined how government funded universities will handle Title IX cases. These policies are named the “Final Rule,” and all federally funded schools are updating their student handbooks right now to reflect these changes. Let’s take a look at the major changes that universities have to implement.
Schools are no longer required to investigate off-campus sexual assault cases.
Yep, you heard that correctly. Bullshit, right? According to knowyourix.org, “Schools must dismiss any complaints of sexual misconduct that occur outside of campus-controlled buildings and/or educational activities.” Any cases of sexual assault, harassment, stalking, or violence that occurs off-campus will not be covered by the school.
With 69% of the student population living off-campus according to jmu.edu, a huge percentage of cases will be outlawed simply because they happen half a mile from campus. Cases will be transferred to the appropriate authorities, which will most likely fall under the jurisdiction of the Harrisonburg Police Department. If students rarely feel comfortable coming forward to the university, why would they feel comfortable reaching out to police?
According to rainn.org, of the percentage of respondents that did not feel comfortable reporting their case, 13% did not take action because they did not think the police would do anything to help.
Why is the federal government trying to roll back protections for those who experience sexual assault? As we’ve seen in recent events related to COVID-19, the university does not always act in the student’s best interest, as much as we’d like to think they do. I can’t help but notice that if there are fewer Title IX cases under the school’s jurisdiction, they can allocate less resources to the departments that deal with those cases. Universities will potentially have a financial gain if they can reduce the number of cases they handle.
Sexual harassment has been narrowed to only “instances that are severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.”
How can something be “objectively offensive” if we subjectively take offense to different things. Something that is objectively offensive to one person may not be a big deal to another. Who is going to decide what is “objectively offensive”? Shouldn’t they let the person who has experienced harassment be the one who explains why and how it has affected them? I have so many questions…
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these laws were released in May as everyone was focused on getting through a global pandemic. Why didn’t they postpone these laws? I urge you to think long and hard about whether our federal education system has our best interest in mind.Embed from Getty Images
When I experienced harassment, the person made me feel uncomfortable in class, off campus, on campus, and even over social media. They did not stop harassing me until I threatened to take it to the Title IX office, but I’m worried that threat won’t carry the same weight after these new changes are implemented.
The location where you experience sexual harassment should not affect the extent to which your university protects you, and any university that does not understand that does not have your best interest in mind.
If you have experienced any form of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, I see you and I will work to make sure that you are supported. On August 14th, the Title IX office at JMU assured me that they were still addressing Title IX cases regardless of where it took place, but that process may change when OSARP releases its new policies soon. Universities have some leeway on how they implement these new policies, so let’s hope that JMU protects those who experience sexual assault or harassment. More information on this issue and how you can help is available on knowyourix. I encourage you to express your concerns to the Title IX and OSARP office.
Office of Residence Life: First Year Housing. (2020, July 16). Retrieved from https://www.jmu.edu/orl/housing/first-year.shtml
The Criminal Justice System: Statistics | RAINN. (n.d.). Rainn. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system
Hands Off IX: Title IX Under Trump. (2020, July 20). Know Your IX. https://www.knowyourix.org/college-resources/hands-off-ix/
Generation Progress. (2014, October 24). New Data Shows That Less Than One-Third Of Convicted College Rapists Are Expelled. https://genprogress.org/new-data-shows-that-less-than-one-third-of-convicted-college-rapists-are-expelled/
giphy link: https://gph.is/2RQinLE