When it comes to sexual assault, it shouldn’t matter who or where you are. Victims of such horrendous crimes should be treated with the utmost care and respect, and offenders should be fully brought to justice under the law. Unfortunately, dozens of our nation’s schools seem to be consistently mishandling these cases that its students are bringing forth.
As a nation we expect our universities, which attract top students from all over the world, to provide not only a top level of education but also a high level of commitment and care to their students. These are schools that have been lowering admittance rates and raising tuition costs substantially over the last couple of decades with the allure of allowing students to learn and grow in a safe environment. So it is disturbing that federal investigators have opened an investigation into 55 different colleges and universities that may have wrongfully and illegally handled sexual violence and harassment complaints. These schools, which span across 27 states and D.C., include some of the country’s most elite institutions, such as Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan.
These federal investigations are taking place under Title IX, which ensures that schools do not deny or limit students in their ability to participate in any educational program or activity based on their sex. Under Title IX, if a school knows about sexual violence or harassment, they must:
- Immediately take action to eliminate and prevent it from happening again.
- Take steps to resolve the situation (even if the student and parents don’t want to file a complaint).
- They must do all of this even if a separate criminal investigation is underway.
As many students have seen after they have fallen victim to sexual assault, their schools have indeed not complied with Title IX, adding hardship and challenges to those who have already suffered. Recently, an anonymous student at Harvard published an open letter in the school’s newspaper, claiming that another student sexually assaulted her. When she went to the administration, she was allegedly told that her situation, which she claims consisted of him verbally pressuring her into sex and physically hurting her, did not fall under the school’s category of sexual assault, which defines “indecent assault and battery” as “unwanted touching or fondling of a sexual nature that is accompanied by physical force or threat of bodily injury,” a policy that was made in 1993. They refused to move the accused out of her dorm without an investigation but told her if she started an investigation it would be dismissed based on the policy’s language. Harvard is the only Ivy League school to not have an affirmative consent doctrine, which means it is the potential victim’s job to deter someone who wants to have sex with them.
These cases happen across the country
A student at Emerson College, Sarah Tedesco, claimed after she reported a rape by a student from her dorm she was met with responses from administrators such as, “What were you wearing?” and that she should “not make a big deal out of [her] assault.” After a brief investigation her case was dismissed. She and four other assault victims were then able to file a complaint to the Department of Education, whose Office of Civil Rights has seen sexual violence complaints nearly triple in the last four years.
Under Title IX, any federally funded school that does not comply risks losing federal funding and action from the Justice Department, which is how it should be for these schools. College should be a safe place for our next generation’s minds to grow, and any school that doesn’t ensure this safe space for its students should question and reevaluate its own policies and administration, not for a feared loss of funding but in the interests of its students. After victims of sexual assault endure such traumatic experiences, the least that can be done is provide them with support and justice, not doubt and dismissive attitudes.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.