Earlier this month, the United States Department of Education announced proposed regulations to define sexual harassment under Title IX, how students must report misconduct and how educational institutions must respond.
The proposal’s summary states Title IX seeks to punish schools receiving federal funding that don’t properly respond to harassment rather than penalizing individual people. But the policy goes out of its way to bolster the rights of the accused and limit institutions’ responsibility to investigate reports, which is dangerous in a country where one in five women in college are sexually assaulted and more than 90 percent of survivors don’t report.
Obama-era policies required schools to look at all misconduct allegations. Part of this month’s proposal, however, requires schools to have “actual knowledge” of sexual harassment through a report to a Title IX coordinator or “an official with authority to take corrective action” in order for a school to investigate the claim.
But, often, the first person a survivor of sexual violence confides in is a friend, adviser, faculty mentor or residence assistant, wrote Temple University Title IX Coordinator Andrea Seiss and Dean of Students Stephanie Ives in a letter to the editor earlier this semester. Not all of those people have “authority to take corrective action.”
Without a formal complaint, schools are still encouraged to issue no-contact orders, change class schedules and take other actions to ensure survivors can still access their right to an education. But oftentimes, this isn’t enough. Seeing an assailant’s friends or people who look like the assailant can trigger panic attacks.
Schools are under Title IX investigation for potentially mishandling sexual assault cases. Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment and giving institutions the power to choose the level of proof in their investigations, shows a measure of trust in people and systems that don’t deserve it and doesn’t give survivors the process they need.