Category Archives: Guest Blog

Fatima Goss Graves: “Beyond the Campus: Protecting All Students From Sexual Assault”–the SSAIS website inaugural post

fatima

A change is coming. Title IX, the law that bans sex discrimination in education, is transforming the way that schools respond to sexual harassment and assault, and students around the country will be better for it.

Title IX’s scope and reach have always been broad. While it is most known for the important work to open opportunities for girls in athletic programs, it also has more quietly increased access for women to higher education, expanded opportunities for women in the science and technology fields, and protected student parents from discrimination.

Today’s Title IX campaigns to combat harassment and violence are anything but quiet. Instead, Title IX is now aided by bullhorns and after decades we may finally see the systemic change it was designed to prompt. Many of the ingredients for a transformative movement are present: Campaigns are survivor centered and driven, and student activists are challenging schools that fail to prevent and address harassment and violence. These vibrant activists are joined by policymakers eager to finally combat the problem of sexual assault—legislators at every level are working to support student survivors and improve school response. The attention to the issue goes all the way to the White House which has launched two public education campaigns, Notalone.gov and Itsonus.org. And many colleges and universities are responding by pressing forward with specific strategies to finally address the issue on campus.

Despite these important gains, it is critical that we pause to address holes in the important progress made to date.  Indeed, now is the time to ask whether the policy development and public education campaigns are reaching all students.

We will have fumbled this opportunity if we don’t center the range of students who encounter sexual harassment and assault. Our work–and our policy solutions–must support the needs not only of students on traditional four-year college campuses, but also students in community college and other two-year settings, students in secondary schools, and young men and women who have become disconnected from school. The work must reach students who are homeless or in foster care. It must take into account the ways in which girls of color encounter violence. And it must reach the violence faced by girls who are transgender, queer or questioning.

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Moreover, if we do not bring a serious focus to the problem of sexual harassment and assault in elementary and secondary schools, it will be nearly impossible to make real progress at any other level of education. Too often the story of sexual violence in K-12 schools shows administrators who are poorly informed about their Title IX obligations or avoid taking the necessary steps required by Title IX to end and prevent future harassment.

Fortunately, it is not too late to ensure that the work is inclusive and the strategies are broad-based. And Title IX, and the students and communities it was designed to protect, will be stronger for it.

Fatima Goss Graves is Senior Vice President for Program, where she leads the Center’s broad program agenda to eliminate barriers in employment, education, health and reproductive rights and lift women and families out of poverty.

Prior to being named Senior Vice President, Ms. Goss Graves led the Center’s anti-discrimination initiatives, including work to promote equal pay, combat harassment and sexual assault at work and at school, and advance equal access to education programs, with a particular focus on outcomes for women and girls of color. She uses a number of advocacy strategies in her work on these issues ranging from public education and legislative advocacy to litigation, including briefs in the Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals. Prior to joining the Center, she worked as an appellate and trial litigator at Mayer Brown LLP. She began her career as a law clerk for the Honorable Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Ms. Goss Graves is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale Law School. She currently serves on the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace and is a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow and an adviser on the American Law Institute Project on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct on Campus.
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Ms. Goss Graves is the author of this important editorial We Must Deal with K-12 Sexual Assault in the National Law Review.

What You Missed at the “It Happened Here” Screening on USF Campus

by Minnah Stein, founder of EMPOWERU

Last night I attended the screening of It Happened Here on the University of South Florida (USF) campus. I was so excited to meet Marjorie Schwartz Nielsen (the documentary’s producer) and Kylie Angell (one of the film’s featured activists) so I could thank them in person for their amazing work. I did, and it felt pretty good.

I’ve shown the documentary to over 1,500 high school students in my county, and I know first-hand how impactful it is, how beneficial it is in starting this conversation, and how effective it is at educating students about the facts of sexual assault and their Title IX rights. Far from intimidating students, It Happened Here makes students feel empowered and hopeful. I could actually feel that in the audience at my screenings and in the theatre at USF last night.

I was so happy to see a very large turn out of students – many of whom were boys. Yes! And, Crystal Coombes, Senior Deputy Title IX Coordinator for USF, was everything a college student could want in a Title IX coordinator. She made me hopeful colleges are finally starting to get it right. USF certainly seems to be on the right track.

For those of you who would also love the opportunity to meet Marjorie and Kylie, let me report that they are both powerful and kind women, and I wish you could meet them too. They truly care about this cause and want to crush it.

If you do too, join the fight! Host a screening of It Happened Here at your school. You can also get involved with Stop Sexual Assault In Schools and host a screening of their free educational video “Sexual Assault: Not At Our School!” that is set to be released soon.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the night. A HUGE thank you to Renee Hangartner, President of the Clinical Psychological Association at USF, for making the screening possible. She’s another amazing woman I had the pleasure of meeting last night!

Me being silly.

Kylie Angell, Minnah Stein, and Marjorie Schwartz Nielsen ready for the screening.

Marjorie Schwartz Nielsen, Kylie Angell, and Crystal Coombes answering audience questions.

Source: What You Missed at the It Happened Here Screening on USF Campus

The K-12 Sexual Assault and Harassment Problem: Title IX in K-12 Schools

jules3Jules Irvin-Rooney discusses why effective post-secondary programs should be tailored to middle and high schools to create culture change.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education. In fact, the language of Title IX 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.” Unfortunately, even with Office for Civil Rights (OCR) guidance particularly tailored to K – 12 schools, schools receiving federal financial assistance are inadequately addressing their Title IX obligations. What we need to do is better understand the problem and start working to change the climate and help Title IX be upheld in all of our schools.

When we hear about Campus Violence Prevention, the focus is on college campuses. However, what is missing is the discussion of the approximate 50.1 million students that will attend public elementary and secondary schools in the 2015-2016 school year. In our discussions about campus violence, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and rape, our communities are not acknowledging that K-12 education is compulsory in America, whereas higher education is not. In our society, though, the national discussion of sexual assault is framed by the experiences at higher education institutions, rather than our K-12 schools, where the students at the higher education institutions received their foundational education. Communities are failing millions of students this year by not acknowledging, enforcing, educating, and discussing sexual assault and harassment in our K-12 schools.

We have a national campaign exalted by the White House claiming that #ItsOnUs to stop sexual assault; and while I could not agree more with the need of such a campaign and the message, I have become increasingly frustrated and flabbergasted as to why it is not “on us” to change the culture and enforce the law in K-12 schools. #ItsOnUs to have a national conversation about consent, respect, healthy relationships, rape, assault, coercion and much more with those in college and universities, but we cannot even enforce the federal requirements that all elementary and secondary school systems have a Title IX Coordinator. #ItsOnUS is not the only national campaign, primarily focusing on sexual assaults in higher education, but my choice in using them as an example is this: this is a national campaign championed by our government—and the government needs to be paying as much, if not more, attention to sexual assault in our K-12 schools.

The following are a few examples that to showcase an epidemic of horrors transpiring in our nation’s K-12 system. These examples are not unique, nor startling to those of us who work in this field—they are mere examples of hundreds to thousands of incidents we have talked and heard about from community members, survivors, and the media. Instead of discussing Title IX and the rights Title IX grants, we have a school that claims a 14 year-old girl is partly responsible for the sexual abuse from her 8th grade teacher. In turn, athletes are hazed through sexual assault in New York. Female students are bullied and harassed for reporting their rapist in Oklahoma. Again, these are a few specific examples, but similar scenarios are transpiring across our nation.

We need a stronger effort to curb sexual violence, to have students understand their rights, and to have school’s comprehend their rights and obligations under Title IX. Students are experiencing sexual violence before they graduate from our K-12 schools. For instance, a Rutgers University study recently asserted, “Nearly a quarter of female students surveyed by Rutgers University said they were the victims of ‘sexual violence,’ including persistent sexual advances or unwanted remarks about their physical appearance before they even arrived at college, according to a new university report.” Assertions such as these should be taken seriously in our educational system: from the top down and the bottom up. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and our government should be prioritizing efforts to address K-12 Title IX issues and provide stronger guidance and firmer resolutions to school systems. In turn, school systems and their surrounding communities should be focused on creating change and demanding a stronger education and enforcement of Title IX.

I believe in proactive training and culture changing. In my work at Title IX and Clery Act Consulting, I strongly advocate that programs proving to be effective at our colleges and universities be applied and tailored to our middle school and high schools.

Major stakeholders in our communities and at our schools need to be educated and trained in how to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, hazing, bullying, sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence, and much more.

 

[1] Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq., is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. All public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities (hereinafter “schools”) receiving any Federal funds must comply with Title IX. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.

[2] See: http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372).

[3] #ItsOnUs Campaign seeks to promote and apply the following pledge: “This pledge is a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault.It is a promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution.” See: http://itsonus.org

[4] See: http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/new-guidance-us-department-education-reminds-schools-obligation-designate-title-ix-coordinator

[5] See: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-lausd-sex-abuse-20150902-story.html?utm_content=bufferd3cb3&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[6] Robert Kolker “Out of Bounds” New York Magazine, accessed at: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9391/

[7] See: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2014/11/yes_all_daughters_oklahoma_high_school_students_walk_out_protest_alleged_mistrea.html

[8] Adam Clark, Rutgers Report: ‘Sexual violence starts before college; Sept. 3 2015, accessed at: http://www.nj.com/education/2015/09/rutgers_report_sexual_violence_starts_before_colle.html 

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Jules Irvin-Rooney, J.D. is the Board Chair of SSAIS and President of Title IX and Clery Act Consulting, LLC,  Read more about Jules on the SSAIS leadership page.

Standing Up for You – Standing Up for Others

katieshippIt is Not Your Fault

When you are raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed by one of your peers or teachers, it can be hard to know what to do. Your first instinct may be to withdraw from family and friends, isolate yourself, and refuse to talk to anyone about what happened. A lot of survivors attempt to forget the abuse, make excuses for the perpetrator, or may even blame themselves. It is important to remember that what happened to you is not your fault. Even if drugs or alcohol were involved, someone forcing or pressuring you into something is not okay. Every kind of physical intimacy should be enjoyable and consented to by each participant.

Reporting What Happened Supports Other Survivors

The chances are, if someone forced himself or herself on you, took advantage of you, or pressured you into doing something you did not want to do- they have done or will do this to others. Standing up for yourself and reporting what happened- helps encourage other survivors to take action against abusers and prevents abusers from having additional victims. Many of our clients report that the best thing about taking action is knowing that other victims will know they are not alone, feel supported, and perhaps be encouraged to speak up about what happened to them. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 women and 1 and 5 men are sexually abused at some point in their life with the abuse normally occurring in high school or college. Reporting what happened to you will not only help you attain justice but may encourage others to seek it as well and no longer live in fear.

Know Your Rights

When you decide to report, it is important that you understand your rights. Your school should immediately put you in contact with its Title IX Coordinator and put measures in place to protect your safety. They should keep you updated on the status of the investigation, provide you with support services, and allow you to be involved in the investigation/hearing. They are also required to make sure that the abuse, harassment, and discrimination stop. If the school, its employees, or other students punish or retaliate against you for reporting in any way, it is illegal and prohibited by federal law. Knowing your rights will help you hold your school accountable and ensure that victims are supported and treated fairly. If you feel like you need help navigating the schools disciplinary process or protecting your rights- you may want to contact an attorney with an understanding of Title IX to help you.

Options If School Fails to Protect You

If you have reported to your school and they have failed to or did a bad job protecting your rights – you may want to consider filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (“OCR”). OCR is the federal government agency that is in charge of enforcing Title IX. It is OCR’s responsibility to make sure schools are not discriminating against students on the basis of sex. If OCR finds a your school to be in violation of Title IX, it can require your school to take several steps to get back into compliance and may even issue sanctions.

The OCR website explains how to file a complaint. The complaint process requires you to fill out a form and provide a statement of what happened. You are not required to have an attorney to file a complaint but hiring one may be helpful. If OCR decides to investigate your case, they may ask you for additional information. Filing complaints with and notifying OCR of sexual abuse, discrimination, and harassment helps to ensure that your school will not make the same mistakes when other victims step forward and report what happened to them.

You also have the option of hiring an attorney to initiate a civil lawsuit against the school. In order to obtain damages, you must be able to prove that the school had actual knowledge of the abuse or harassment and responded inadequately with deliberate indifference. Speaking with an attorney can help you understand the strength of your case and the likelihood of success. In most circumstances, attorneys do not charge for the first call.

Things to Consider

It is important to remember that OCR complaints and civil lawsuits must be filed within a certain amount of time. OCR complaints ordinarily must be filed within 180 days of the last act of discrimination and statutes of limitations for civil lawsuits differ depending on the state. Further, when suing a state-owned institution, some states require a notice of claim to be filed as early as 90 days. However, some state laws provide exceptions that extend the time limitations for victims who were under age or legal disability when abused. Unfortunately, many survivors wait too long to come forward and lose the ability to take legal action against the school.

Additionally, the success of an OCR complaint or a civil lawsuit often depends on the amount of information the victim is able to provide. Make sure to keep copies of anything you receive, including emails, letters, text messages, social media messages, etc.. It is also important to keep a written log of everything that happened, the date it happened, everyone you spoke to, when you spoke to them, and what it was about. Putting everything in writing will allow you to provide an accurate account of what occurred to the OCR investigator or your attorney.

You Are Not Alone

While this process may seem intimidating, holding schools accountable for their failures and inadequacies helps protect others and ensures that future victims will be supported and treated fairly. It is important to know that you are not alone and that standing up for yourself will give others the courage to no longer tolerate injustice. Speaking up and demanding change pressures policymakers to enact and strengthen laws to protect students.

This material is general information of an educational nature and is not legal advice. It is recommended that you speak with an attorney to discuss the specific circumstances of your case.

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Katie Shipp is a women’s and children’s rights advocate and attorney in state and federal court. Ms. Shipp specializes in Title !X, victim’s rights, and child law.

Emily Lindin on Sexual Bullying and SSAIS

EmilyHeadShotEmily Lindin of The UnSlut Project talks about why Stop Sexual Assault in Schools is so timely and important. “The issues of sexual assault and sexual bullying are intricately related and dependent upon each other, and the way we approach one must inform the other.”

 

 

Emily Lindin is the founder and director of The UnSlut Project, which uses personal story sharing to work against sexual bullying and “slut” shaming. She is the author of the upcoming UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir and the director of UnSlut: A Documentary Film.