Category Archives: Guest Blog

How to File a Title IX Complaint in K-12 Schools

A Guide for Parents and Guardians

By Dr. Bill Howe with Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org)

Dr. Howe was the Connecticut State Title IX coordinator for 17 years. He maintains a website on Title IX.

 

This simple guidance for parents and guardians explains how to file a complaint with your school district regarding sexual harassment, sexual violence, sex discrimination, and other violations of state and federal civil rights laws regarding gender discrimination. Some of this guidance also applies to educational programs (e.g. museum, science center) or private schools, if they receive federal funding from any source (e.g. Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, etc.).  All public and private schools that receive federal funding must follow the federal civil rights law Title IX, which protects students from the impact of sexual harassment and assault on their education.

The following information should not be construed as legal advice.

  1. Make sure that your school or educational program is required to follow state and federal civil rights laws. Under federal law, any educational entity that receives even one dollar of federal financial support must abide by Title IX and other federal civil rights laws. Do not let schools argue that since “they do not receive Title IX money” they do not have to obey the law. For example, schools (public or private) must follow Title IX under these circumstances:

— The school receives public school district funding. Public school funds, state funds, and federal funds are commingled. Therefore, acceptance of public school district funding or state funds is essentially the same as receiving federal funding.

— If any student in your school receives grants, scholarships, or loans through the school district or through the state, that is federal funding.

— If the school receives any state funds, then the school is bound by state civil rights laws, which most likely include anti-discrimination laws such as sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

— The private school receives federal funds, such as Title I, from any number of federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, etc.

To find out if a private school receives federal funding or how to file a complaint if it does, see Title IX and Private Schools.  If your private school is one of several within an organization or diocese and even if only one school accepts federal money, Title IX applies to all schools in the organization or diocese. Learn more.

Students in parochial schools are generally not protected by state and federal civil rights laws if the schools do not accept state or federal funding. Complaints would go to the archdiocese office. However, if the complaint involves sexual assault, it could be a criminal matter that falls under police jurisdiction. Or it could be a child welfare issue, which should then also be reported to the state children welfare agency.

If your private school receives federal funding through federal agencies other than the U.S. Department of Education, such as the Department of Agriculture, it still must follow Title IX.  Learn more.

  1. Upon finding out that a violation as occurred, determine if the child has been physically injured and if so seek medical treatment. If a sexual assault has occurred, consider preserving evidence by immediately following these steps:

* Reassure the child emotionally.

* Gather all facts immediately. Write them down in detail. The chronology (order of events) is important. Ask:

— Where did this take place?

— What time was it?

— Who was the perpetrator? How does the child know the perpetrator?

— Were there any witnesses? Get their names.

— What was the offensive behavior? Why does the child think this occurred?  

— Were there any conversations at the time of the incident? Describe them.

— Where were people positioned? Draw a picture illustrating where the offense occurred.

— Were any adults notified of the incident? Get their names.

  1. Review the school’s policies and procedures regarding Title IX and violence. Title IX requires that schools have written policies and procedures in the student handbook. The Title IX Coordinator’s contact information should appear in the student handbook. If it doesn’t, call the district and find out who the Title IX Coordinator is. [expand
  1. Call the person identified in the student handbook who is responsible for sexual harassment and assault. If a person cannot be reached, contact the school principal. If no one can be reached, leave a voice message and follow it up with an email indicating you have an urgent report of the civil rights violation and possible criminal action.
  1. When you reach the person in charge, make sure you get their name, title and other contact information. Reading from your notes describe exactly what your complaint is. Let the school official know that you believe that this incident is possibly a civil rights and criminal violation. Cite Title IX. Also, if your child is a special needs student, has a disability or may have been targeted because of race, religion, national origin indicate that these are also possible violations. Some federal civil rights in education laws are:

— Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq) prohibits sex discrimination in education and in employment situations that receive federal financial assistance.

— Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

— Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

— Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs the equal treatment and education of special education students.

— Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the Justice Department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where a perpetrator has selected a victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

  1. Write down what the school official says. Ask the school official how they plan to proceed. Get a commitment for a follow-up call. Follow up conversations with a written summary to the school.
  1. Get confirmation from the school official that there will be no retaliation against your child. There should be a statement in the student handbook that says so; it might be helpful to cite the page number. Get a written commitment from the school for a safety plan to ensure that your child will not be at risk during the investigation.
  1. Consider enlisting the help of a victim’s advocate or rape crisis organization to serve as an intermediary. Get confirmation from your school that your child will have permission to leave the classroom and seek the school counselor or other designated adult as needed.
  1. It is the school’s responsibility to notify law enforcement and the child welfare agency, if they deem it appropriate. School staff are mandated reporters and required to report sexual assault. You may also do so yourself.
  1. Allow the school district time to investigate your complaint and reach a conclusion. Often the timelines are in the student handbook. The U.S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) once considered 60 days a reasonable time for a school to complete an investigation, however that guidance has been rescinded. Many feel that this is far too long. A prompt investigation is critical. Law enforcement may ask the school to wait to complete its investigation, but this should not be an unreasonable amount of time.
  1. You may ask for proof that the person conducting the Title IX investigation has been trained in Title IX. Training is a federal requirement (see Cape Cod Community College, OCR Case No. 01-93-2047).
  1. While you notify the school, you also have the right to file a complaint with OCR. OCR generally wants to give the school sufficient time to conduct the investigation, but if they feel that the investigation is not progressing in a timely manner, you may press OCR to act.
  1. You may also file a complaint with the state civil rights commission and the state Department of Education. The state civil rights commission may decline to begin an investigation if OCR has already done so. At the same time, OCR most likely will not act if the state civil rights commission has already begun an investigation. OCR will most likely not act if you have contacted an attorney and begun private litigation. You can file the complaint with OCR within their 180-day limit. They may close the investigation if other agencies are investigating, but they may revisit the complaint once you have exhausted other complaint pathways. Keep in touch with OCR to determine your deadline for resubmitting.
  1. If the school investigates and concludes that there was no violation, ask what the appeal process is for the school district. Sometimes, schools will include a policy on appeals in the student handbook; sometimes they will not. Some schools may not have any appeal process.
  1. In high-profile cases, or in cases in which the alleged perpetrator is a school official, the school may hire a so-called “independent investigator” to conduct investigation. Try to vet this independent investigator to ensure that they are indeed unbiased and have no conflict of interest with the school district. For example, if the “independent investigator” is regularly hired by the district, they might not want to jeopardize future jobs by determining that the district was at fault.
  1. If the perpetrator is a certified teacher or administrator, you may have rights within your state to file a complaint with the state education agency and ask that their teaching credentials be revoked. This is usually done through the state education agency’s legal office.
  1. Even if the local law enforcement agency finds that there was no criminal action, that does not mean that there was no Title IX violation. Title IX is about protecting the student’s education from discrimination based on sex; it does not necessarily seek to determine whether a crime occurred. Similarly, a child welfare agency may find no violation of child welfare laws but there may still be a violation of Title IX. Most states have parallel (similar) state laws to Title IX.
  1. If the school investigation finds that you have no grounds for your complaint, you could proceed with a complaint with OCR or the state civil rights commission but generally only if you can prove that there were procedural errors, such as the person conducting the investigation was not trained in Title IX or that the school failed to follow its stated policies and procedures. At this point, you may want to consult an attorney to consider private litigation.
  1. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), generally prevents the disclosure of confidential information about other students. However, the U.S. Department of Education has ruled that in Title IX cases, parents have the right to know the outcomes of the investigation and the punishment given to the perpetrator. This is a very contentious issue since schools have been traditionally warned not to disclose any confidential information. Sometimes school districts will disclose your personal information accidentally or as retaliation. If this occurs, collect proof and file a FERPA complaint.
  1. Determine what you want to happen as a result of an investigation. In civil rights terminology the question is “how can we make the victim whole again?” Some things that you may want to consider for your child are:

— An opportunity to retake tests that were missed because of the incident.

— An extension to make up work to receive credit for the class after the end of the term.

— Tutoring for your child to help them make up for lost schooling and lowered grades.

— Payment for summer school to help your child get caught up in school.

— Reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical expenses because of the incident.

— Payment for counseling services for your child. You could ask the same for the perpetrator.

— You may ask for a safety plan to ensure that the perpetrator will not have any contact or share classes with your child. This may not be possible in small schools, but the perpetrator can be made to take coursework online or at another school.

— Protection against retaliation.

In addition, you could request that:

— The Title IX Coordinator receive training or advanced training.

— All faculty and staff be trained in Title IX, other civil rights laws, policies and procedures.

— All students receive additional lessons in proper school conduct, specifically in sexual harassment.

— All faculty and staff be trained by professionals to take complaints of sexual harassment and assault compassionately and effectively.

— The district review and update school policies, the employee handbook, and the student handbook.

  1. Filing Title IX complaints with other federal agencies. OCR only handles Title IX complaints where schools have received federal funds through the U.S. Department of Education. If your private school receives money from another federal agency, such as the Department of Agriculture, file the complaint through that agency. Follow these instructions.

To work in partnership with your school district to improve Title IX Compliance, see Parents: You Can Become the Agent of Change for Title IX Policies in Your Schools.

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Title IX and Private K-12 Schools

by Christine Garner, with input from Bill Howe and SSAIS.

This FAQ is about Title IX and private K-12 schools. It is not intended as definitive legal advice. We recommend that you contact an attorney to review your specific situation. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) continues to change its guidance. This information is based upon guidance provided prior to March 10, 2018.

Is a private K-12 school required to comply with Title IX?

Title IX states that “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.”  If a private school receives any federal financial assistance then it must comply with Title IX, unless the school has a legitimate religious exemption (see below).

The courts have ruled that even if one department of a school receives federal financial assistance, the entire school must abide by Title IX.  If a private school is part of an entity with more than one school, then all schools within the entity must adhere to Title IX, even if only one of the entity’s schools receives federal financial assistance.

Does a private religious school have to comply with Title IX?

If a private religious school accepts federal financial assistance, then it is required to comply with Title IX. A religious school can claim an exemption from Title IX requirements that it believes would be inconsistent with its religious tenets. Religious schools may apply to the Department of Education for exemptions to Title IX requirements, but a school is not required to file a written claim for an exemption to be valid.  The school can raise the religious exemption in response to a Title IX complaint.

The most common religious exemptions apply to sports, pregnant students, or LGTBQ rights. It is difficult to envision a valid religious tenet that would exempt a school from having to address sexual harassment or sexual assault.  If a religious school claims an exemption, you could still file a complaint, and OCR will decide if the exemption is valid.

What qualifies as federal financial assistance?

The Department of Justice (DoJ) defines federal financial assistance as “the award or grant of money.” The DoJ definition continues:

However, federal financial assistance may also be in nonmonetary form… [F]ederal financial assistance may include the use or rent of federal land or property at below market value, federal training, a loan of federal personnel, subsidies, and other arrangements with the intention of providing assistance. Federal financial assistance does not encompass contracts of guarantee or insurance by the federal government. It is also important to remember that not only must an entity receive federal financial assistance to be subject to Title IX, but the entity also must receive federal assistance at the time of the alleged discriminatory act(s) except for assistance provided in the form of real or personal property. In this situation, the recipient is subject to Title IX for as long as it uses the property.

Private K-12 schools usually receive financial assistance from the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, or the Department of Health and Human Services.  Private schools might also receive financial assistance from other federal agencies.

If a student or teacher at a private school receives Title I or special education services from a public school, does that mean the private school is a recipient of federal financial assistance?

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require public school districts to provide eligible students with special education resources and also to provide “equitable services” to eligible children in private schools. If a private school student or teacher receives “equitable services” from a public school, that does not mean that the private school is a recipient of federal financial assistance.  Department of Education policy does not consider services provided to private school students or teachers under ESEA Title I or IDEA as federal funds given to the school.

How do you know whether your private school receives federal financial assistance?

First, ask the private school administration if they receive federal financial assistance. The school should know because they are required to sign an Assurance of Compliance prior to receiving the funds. The assurance of compliance states only that the school “assures” the federal agency that the school complies with Title IX and the other federal civil rights laws. The signed assurance of compliance does not mean the federal agency has audited to see if the school is truly in compliance.

If the school refuses to answer or you do not trust their answer, you can search USAspending.gov (see instructions below) or the Federal Audit Clearinghouse. These databases show the federal financial award amount and the agency that provided the money. Even if the school does not appear in one of these databases, it still might receive federal financial assistance.

If you cannot verify whether your private school receives federal financial assistance, you can still file a Title IX complaint with OCR, and they will determine if the school receives funds from the Department of Education. It’s best to consult with an attorney first to determine the best course of action because you can lose valuable time waiting for a determination from OCR.

If my private school does receive federal financial assistance, how do I a file complaint under Title IX?

If you are not able to resolve your complaint with the private school, you can file a lawsuit or file a complaint through the civil rights department of the federal agency that provided the school with financial assistance. The three most common sources of federal financial assistance to private K-12 schools are the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and Department of Health and Human Services.

Here are the links to file complaints:

OCR sets the standard for review of a Title IX complaint, even if another federal agency is processing that complaint. If a private school receives funds from more than one federal agency, you only need file a complaint with one agency. It’s preferable to file a complaint through the Department of Education if your school receives funds from the Department of Education.

When must I file my Title IX complaint?

You must file a Title IX complaint within 180 days of the latest occurrence of the discrimination.  If you filed a complaint through your school’s grievance process and you feel your Title IX rights were violated, you can file a complaint with OCR within 60 days after the last act in the school’s grievance process. OCR sometimes grants a waiver of the 180-day filing period, but it’s best to submit your complaint within that time frame. Because discrimination can be ongoing, discuss your filing deadline with an attorney as soon as you discover the discrimination.

What if my private school isn’t required to comply with Title IX?

You do not need to rely only on Title IX to prove sexual harassment and sexual assault are wrong. Even if your private school is not required to comply with Title IX, you can still demand that it address these issues and live up to Title IX standards. If a student is a victim of sexual assault at a private school, the action is still wrong and the school should respond to protect and help the victim. Depending on the facts, a private school might be liable for breach of contract, negligent supervision, or some other legal theory that would be best discussed with an attorney.

As noted in the Assurance of Compliance, schools must also comply with other civil rights laws and an incident could violate more than one law. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Discrimination based upon disability is prohibited by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Age discrimination is prohibited by the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

Most states have their own anti-bullying laws. These statutes define bullying in different ways. Check with an attorney about whether a private school must comply with anti-bullying laws in your state.

In conclusion, if a student has been a victim of sexual harassment, do not give up. You have the right to demand protection and help from your private school.

Legal disclaimer



Instructions on how to conduct a search on the USA Spending website:

  1. Browse to USAspending.gov advanced search webpage.
  2. On the left side, in the Filters box, under Time Period, select All Fiscal Years.
  3. In the Filters box, click Award Type, and select all of the categories (Contracts, Grants, Direct Payments, Loans, and Other).
  4. In the Filters box, click Recipient, and in the Recipient Name search box, enter the name of the school or portion of the name, and then click the search icon (magnifying glass).
  5. Scroll to the top or to the bottom of the Filters box, and then click Submit Search.
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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.Read more

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.

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 President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. She has spent her career fighting to advance opportunities for women and girls. Prior to becoming President, Ms. Goss Graves served as the Center’s Senior Vice President for Program, where she led the organization’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.

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.