Recent Title IX changes may quiet victims’ voices

Jessica Isser , R1 Editor-In-Chief

Sexual assault is a prevalent issue that unfortunately affects many students across the country. According to a survey conducted by the American Association of University Women, from 8th to 11th grade, 83 percent of girls and 78 percent of boys have been sexually harassed. However, only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Despite this low percentage of reported cases, with the help of Title IX, students who have experienced sexual assault are able to get the justice they deserve. However, the recent changes made to Title IX may deter sexual assault survivors from using this outlet.

The changes made to Title IX give more rights to the accused, and while it’s important to make sure that people keep their right to remain innocent until proven guilty, it defeats the purpose of the amendment in regards to sexual assault: to give survivors a more private and personal outlet. ”

— Jessica Isser

Title IX is a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that discusses sex discrimination within the American school system. The title reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal Financial Assistance.” 

While the amendment started out as a basis of equality in education for issues such as course-availability for women, equality of sports teams and acceptance of women into universities, in recent years, it’s been extended to include sexual assault in schools. The amendment also allows students to report sexual assault cases to a trusted Title IX officer rather than going to the police and dealing with a tedious public trial. 

On May 6, the U.S. Department of Education announced new changes to Title IX. Some of these changes include having live hearings and cross-examinations when investigating sexual assault claims. In the past, educational institutions would determine whether a sexual assault occurred using a “more likely than not” mindset; however, the revisions to Title IX changes this standard to “clear and convincing,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The changes made to Title IX give more rights to the accused, and while it’s important to make sure that people keep their right to remain innocent until proven guilty, it defeats the purpose of the amendment in regards to sexual assault: to give survivors a more private and personal outlet. 

Sexual assault survivors go through trauma, which can harm both their mental and physical health. According to Mental Health America, sexual assault survivors are at a higher risk for developing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and eating disorders. The beauty of Title IX was that these survivors could report their stories and get the justice they deserve without rehashing these traumatic instances repeatedly during a trial. 

Yet, the new revision to Title IX makes the process very similar to going directly to the police. Title IX gave students an outlet to confide in a teacher or faculty member whom they trusted and could share their story in the privacy of their own school, without having to involve cross-examinations or live hearings right away. The changes to Title IX no longer give students this comfort.

When dealing with sexual assault allegations, it’s crucial that the accused are given rights and aren’t presumed to be guilty before an in-depth investigation; but, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the past 10 years, only around 2 to 10 percent of sexual assault allegations are found to be false. So yes, it would be unfair for schools to judge the accused without clear evidence, but it would also be unfair to take away a safe and comforting option for survivors to come forward with their story just because of a handful of false allegations. 

Sexual harassment policies in the WHS student handbook (Photo by Jessica Isser )

As sexual assault becomes an even more pressing issue in the American school system, more changes are going to be made to Title IX. When making these changes it’s important that people remember the original goal of the laws: to give people, no matter their sex, equal opportunities within the classroom. Sexual assault can negatively affect the school environment of the victim, making it hard for them to learn and take advantage of educational opportunities. In order to stay true to the original intent of Title IX, sexual assault survivors need to have an outlet to ensure their school remains a safe and welcoming place. Unfortunately, these new changes to Title IX threaten this very goal.

Currently, WHS’ policies regarding Title IX and sexual assault are outlined in the student handbook, but it has yet to be updated since the recent changes. The handbook adequately outlines the response taken when a student comes forward with a sexual assault allegation and clearly names Principal Mary Asfendis as the WHS Title IX Officer. The handbook also emphasizes the importance of remaining fair and impartial throughout the investigation. 

While the handbook gives students insight on their rights and how to respond if they have been sexually assaulted, many students are unaware that these policies are outlined in the student handbook to begin with. To learn more about how WHS’ policies regarding Title IX click here and go to the section entitled ‘Sexual Harassment.’