Category Archives: SSAIS Blog

Schools Must Overhaul How They Respond to Sexual Assault

by Heidi Goldstein

Schools Must Overhaul How They Respond to Sexual AssaultWhen I tell people that I work on issues of sexual harassment and assault in public schools, they are often surprised to learn that much of the work is focused on the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), where I live and my two children attended K-12. How is it, people wonder, that a progressive city like Berkeley can have sexual harassment problems in its schools?

Sadly, Berkeley is a microcosm of a much larger dynamic that regularly plays out in schools across the U.S. Poor policies and processes—implemented by staff who are inadequately trained or supported in their obligations to provide a safe and equitable learning environment, as Title IX requires—result in real damage, trauma and academic derailment to students who suffer incidents of sexual harm.

The first week of February saw significant student turmoil at Berkeley High School (BHS), precipitated by several issues related to BUSD’s years-long failure to adequately address issues of sexual harassment and assault.

The most visible manifestations of the unrest included multiple instances of graffiti around the school naming “Boys to Watch Out 4”—a listing of known student harassers and assailants not unlike the “Shitty Media Men” list that came out during the #MeToo movement.

Highly visible around the BHS campus during February 6’s back-to-school night were flyers which read “BERKELEY HIGH STUDENTS DEMANDS” and included 10 specific demands for changes in the ways the district handles cases of sexual misconduct.  Other flyers posted around campus that evening included statistics and facts about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault.

This same week also included media coverage of a recently-filed lawsuit against BUSD over improper handling of a student’s reported on-campus assault in May 2019; as well as public performances of a student written show called “Our Monologues,” featuring original narratives about the challenges students face around gender, race, sexuality and identity.

Then, on February 11, 1,000 students marched from Berkeley High School to the school district administration building several blocks away and occupied all three floors of the building.  Later that day, the superintendent met with student leaders to discuss their demands for increased student survivor support, Title IX oversight at Berkeley high school and changes in the ways BUSD handles cases of sexual misconduct. In response, the Title IX coordinator has provided an action plan for immediate response to key student demands. The district has determined the price tag attached to the student demands to be approximately $360,000 in additional staffing costs but has not yet taken further action on student demands.

There is a common theme to the confluence of these events: Students have grown frustrated with BUSD’s lack of focus, insufficient investment and extremely limited capacity to handle incidents of student-on-student sexual misconduct.

They are angry over the district’s inability to keep targets of harassment safe from physical intimidation and the social retaliation of their peers at school after they reach out for help.  They are dismayed by the perfunctory “restorative justice” remediation processes applied to their circumstances as “resolution,” and they are appalled at the absence of consequences or discipline processes to discourage perpetrators from such behaviors.  Now, the students are demanding the district change its approach.

Since 2014, when I started working on sexual misconduct issues as a member of the BUSD Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee, and as an adult advisor to the student grassroots advocacy organization, BHS Stop Harassing, there has been little headway or sustained change to improve these dynamics.  Incidents occur in grades K-12 every year: Students are hurt, and distracting social retaliation across the student population is rampant.  Parents are bewildered as to how to help their children and receive limited guidance from the district in navigating its processes.  Every year, some students leave the district because the response to their incident is poor, and supports for success at school are insufficient. Some families sue the district, and win reparations.  Most students just tolerate the abuse and don’t reach out for help because they have seen how others before them have suffered from inadequate protections and poor process when they sought help.

It is time to re-examine why BUSD is unable to create a safer, harassment-free environment for K-12 students, why it has yet to develop a robust curriculum to educate K-12 students about the issues, and why it is unable to effectively handle the misconduct issues when they arise.  I believe the answer to these questions can be found in the sustained lack of investment BUSD has made in organizational and programmatic support since it was compelled, in late 2014, to admit that it did not have even the most basic infrastructure in place to comply with Title IX and other educational equity laws.

The students at BHS have put out the call for dialogue; their list of demands is the blueprint for the conversation.  Next week they will hold a series of walk-outs and workshops with their peers to refine their asks of the district: to improve their learning environment; to provide meaningful access to safety after an incident occurs; and to implement robust, balanced processes for resolution and justice. No one knows better than they what is working and what is not.

District leadership would do well to follow the advice educators often give to failing students: Engage in frank discussions, fact finding and self-evaluation to understand why they aren’t delivering to the standard.  Make a corrective plan, and make a declaration of your intentions to execute on it so others may hold you accountable.  The district owes nothing less to the students and families it exists to serve.

Read the full list of recommendations developed by staff members of the BUSD Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee (SHAC) here.

This blog appeared in MS. Magazine.

Heidi Goldstein has served on the Berkeley Unified School District’s Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee since 2014 and is a founding adult advisor to the student grassroots advocacy organization, BHS Stop Harassing. She serves on the advisory board of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

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Two Years of #MeTooK12: Analyzing the Impact of the Campaign to End Sexual Harassment in Schools

Two Years of #MeTooK12: Analyzing the Impact of the Campaign to End Sexual Harassment in SchoolsOn New Year’s Day in 2018, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) launched the #MeTooK12 campaign in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center. The campaign harnesses the awareness and urgency generated by the #MeToo movement to spotlight the widespread sexual harassment that students experience before entering college or the workforce.

On this second anniversary, we look at the campaign’s impact to date and where it’s headed.

Shortly after campaign launch, #MeTooK12 was featured in major national and international news outlets including The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News, Associated PressThe Guardian and many others. Reporters interviewed K-12 parents, counselors and educators, and gave students an opportunity to share their experiences. Despite statistics showing that most K-12 students experience sexual harassment before graduation, these journalists noted that the issue has been widely overlooked, dismissed and normalized.

Two Years of #MeTooK12: Analyzing the Impact of the Campaign to End Sexual Harassment in SchoolsPublications for educators, such as Education Week, The 74, NEA Today and ASCD Express, cited #MeTooK12 as evidence that schools could no longer ignore students who don’t want to be shielded or sidelined from conversations on topics that affect them. Students expressed a desire to learn about dating violence, hazing, sexting and consent, agreeing unanimously that waiting for college to address these subjects is too late.

At its annual virtual conference, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) sponsored a special keynote session “#MeTooK12 and #MeToo: What does it mean for schools?”  SSAIS participated in the webinar and contributed #MeTooK12-themed educational materials to the AFT Share My Lesson collection, available to all educators.

#MeTooK12 appears in new books aimed at middle school and high school students. The Silence Breakers and the #metoo Movement describes the campaign as promoting school culture change, and Sexual Harassment in the Age of #metoo states that #MeTooK12 wants to “give middle school and high school students a place to speak out about sexual assault.”

School principals and district administrators learned about #MeTooK12 in professional journals such as District AdministratorCampus Safety Magazine, and K-12 Insight. We see online reports about schools conducting assemblies on sexual harassment. Several education law firms reference #MeTooK12 to emphasize schools’ Title IX responsibilities. Families reading the parenting magazine Seattle’s Child learned about the campaign in the context of how the proposed changes to Title IX rules would affect students who report sexual harassment.

Two Years of #MeTooK12: Analyzing the Impact of the Campaign to End Sexual Harassment in SchoolsDigital media outlets that target youth and young adult audiences ran features on #MeTooK12. Now This Her devoted an entire segment to #MeTooK12. Scholastic Choice, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Bustle, Babe and others reported on students who live with persistent sexual harassment, and their frustration with the indifference with which schools react to their complaints.

Student journalists in Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Elkhorn wrote articles for their school newspapers. A recurring theme was how #MeTooK12 had stimulated important conversations about sexual harassment in schools where previously the topic had been studiously avoided.

Two Years of #MeTooK12: Analyzing the Impact of the Campaign to End Sexual Harassment in SchoolsAcademics drew connections between #MeTooK12 and high-profile national events such as the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. One study explains how media coverage of the Kavanaugh proceedings influenced discourse about sexual harassment in K-12 schools. Another encourages student participation in local decision-making about teaching sexual harassment and personal boundary-setting. The campaign even inspired a Maryland state legislator to propose a law requiring sexual consent be taught in schools. Four other states introduced similar bills.

Advocacy groups said that #MeTooK12 reflects public recognition that gender-based harassment and discrimination must be addressed before students enter college and the workplace. Articles by Ms., Domestic Violence Network, National Center on Sexual Exploitation and America’s Progress encouraged students and parents to act as change agents for shaping school culture “to the point where consent is the norm, bystanders step in, and everybody’s job is to make sure victims feel like they can come forward and hold perpetrators accountable.”

In sum, #MeTooK12 has kindled conversations in disciplines as diverse as sexual assault prevention and response, social work, gender equity, child development, educational leadership and many others.

The campaign amplified the voices of students who had been victimized by peer and staff harassment; engaged a diverse group of constituencies around the need to address systemic gender discrimination in K-12 schools; broadened the #MeToo movement to encompass the antecedents/roots of workplace sexual harassment; stimulated the adoption of K-12 sexual harassment prevention programs like consent education, bystander intervention and Title IX compliance; and expanded #MeToo activism to encompass K-12 students facing educator abuse, peer harassment and institutional betrayal/mismanagement.

It also inspired extensive new resources, such those found on the SSAIS #MeTooK12 resources page—including blogs, advocacy protocols, exemplary curricula and policies and toolkits. The National Women’s Law Center even issued new resources under the #MeTooK12 banner.

Although social media campaigns often have diminishing impact over time, we see #MeTooK12 evolving from awareness building to stimulating policy reforms/solutions in individual schools, districts, education agencies and legislatures. We envision #MeTooK12 maturing from a rallying cry to a watchword for school-community partnerships aimed at enhancing K-12 student safety and gender equity in all schools.

It also inspired extensive new resources, such those found on the SSAIS #MeTooK12 resources page—including blogs, advocacy protocols, exemplary curricula and policies and toolkits. The National Women’s Law Center even issued new resources under the #MeTooK12 banner.

Although social media campaigns often have diminishing impact over time, we see #MeTooK12 evolving from awareness building to stimulating policy reforms/solutions in individual schools, districts, education agencies and legislatures. We envision #MeTooK12 maturing from a rallying cry to a watchword for school-community partnerships aimed at enhancing K-12 student safety and gender equity in all schools.

Two Years of #MeTooK12: Analyzing the Impact of the Campaign to End Sexual Harassment in SchoolsWe’re encouraged by the recent proactive steps taken by the Portland, OR Public Schools in building stakeholder coalitions inclusive of parent and student voices under the #MeTooK12 banner, which is widely promoted in district communications. It’s a model that other districts should adopt. They must work to ensure their Title IX policies are transparent, equitable and enforced, and that staff is trained to respond fairly and compassionately to reports of sexual harassment and violence.

As one high school student observed: “The start of ‘a new day’ can only happen once discourse starts. And now that it has, now that all of this is being taken seriously, I think that anything is possible.”

#MeTooK12: Impact and reach is a categorized list of publications that reference the #MeTooK12 campaign.

Reposted from Ms. Magazine.

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Comment on ED’s proposed amendments to Title IX regulations

During the 60-day comment period that ended January 30, 2019, individuals and organizations submitted over 100,000 comments in response to the Department of Education’s proposed rules regarding sexual harassment and Title IX.

Below is an excerpt from the SSAIS comment, which focused on the deleterious effects of the proposed rules on K-12 students.

Kenneth L. Marcus
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington DC, 20202

Re: ED Docket No. ED-2018-OCR-0064, RIN 1870-AA14, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.

Dear Mr. Marcus,

On behalf of the national nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) I wish to voice our organization’s strong opposition to the proposal by the Department of Education (the Department) to amend rules implementing Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972 (Title IX), as published in the Notice of Public Rulemaking (NPRM) on November 29, 2018.

For the past four years, SSAIS has been educating K-12 students, families, and schools about the right to an equal education free from sexual harassment. We hear regularly from students and families across the country how their schools have mishandled sexual harassment complaints. These first-hand accounts paint an alarming and disturbing picture of traumatized young students whose educations have been derailed because school officials ignore, deny, or mismanage reported sexual misconduct.

I also speak from personal experience. Our family’s life was devastated when our high-school age daughter was sexually assaulted by a classmate on a multi-day school field trip. Her school’s failure to recognize her federally mandated Title IX rights, to acknowledge her report of sexual assault as required, to promptly and equitably investigate, to prevent retaliation, and to treat her with basic human dignity has been life-scaring beyond imagination. Our efforts to hold those accountable were met with avoidance, denial, misinformation, falsification, and violations at every juncture.

From our family’s and organization’s experience, we believe the proposed rules will further harm K-12 students who report sexual harassment to their schools and discourage victimized students from coming forward. As explained in our analysis below, the result of the proposed rules on K-12 students will be to worsen sex discrimination in K-12 schools, precisely in contradiction to the spirit of Title IX.

Read the complete comment.

Combating K-12 Sexual Harassment in 2018

In 2018 Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) continued directing national awareness to the sexual harassment epidemic in K-12 schools.

Combating K-12 Sexual Harassment in 2018On New Year’s Day, SSAIS launched its #MeTooK12 campaign to promote awareness and inspire action to counteract pervasive sexual harassment and sexual violence in K-12 schools. Approximately 50 media articles reported on the campaign, including Education Week, The Washington Post, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Ms. Magazine, and Teen Vogue. Now This Her dedicated an entire video to the SSAIS #MeTooK12 initiative and activists.

SSAIS partnered with experts to create new resources to combat K-12 sexual harassment, including You Can Become the Agent of Change for Title IX Policies in Your SchoolsExposing a Sexual Abuse Scandal at a Private School, and How to File a Title IX Complaint in K-12 Schools. The National Women’s Law Center, partners in the #MeTooK12  launch, also created new resources.

SSAIS also participated in the American Federation of Teachers #MeTooK12 keynote webinar, and made its curated list of #MeTooK12 resources available to the American Federation of Teachers Share My Lesson library.

Also this year, SSAIS:

  • Expanded its work on the rights of private school families after discovering that Betsy DeVos’s high school alma mater violated Title IX.
  • Combating K-12 Sexual Harassment in 2018Created Ending K-12 Sexual Harassment: A Toolkit for Parents and Allies. This toolkit helps parents find out what their schools should be doing to end sexual harassment and provides concrete steps communities can take to promote transparent and effective policies, Title IX compliance, and sustainable school culture change.
  • Launched Students Against Sexual Harassment (SASH), the student activist arm of SSAIS.
  • Formed the Coalition Against Sexual Harassment K12 (CASHK12), an online resource for advocates to exchange information. (Contact SSAIS to join.)
  • Created a #Hands Off IX web resource to combat the regressive proposals to weaken Title IX in K-12 schools.

With SSAIS urging, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden cosponsored the Patsy T. Mink and Louise M. Slaughter Gender Equity in Education Act of 2018. This legislation would provide additional resources for schools, school districts, and states to fully implement the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (aka Title IX).

SSAIS also worked with members of the Oregon congressional delegation (Senator Wyden and Representatives Bonamici and Blumenauer) to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The request asks OCR to produce findings from all investigations into K-12 sex discrimination complaints from the past five years and the mandated annual report for 2017.

SSAIS cofounder/Program Director Joel Levin participated in a Quora session on sexual harassment in K-12 schools.

We would like to thank all who donated to SSAIS this year. As an all-volunteer nonprofit, SSAIS relies on individual contributions to help continue our initiatives in the coming year. You can donate here.

We wish you a happy and fulfilling 2019. Join us in addressing sexual harassment where it begins, in K-12 schools.

Combating K-12 Sexual Harassment in 2018

 

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SSAIS April Newsletter

April 28, 2018

It’s been an incredibly busy 2018 for SSAIS. Here are the highlights and new resources for you to explore.

#MeTooK12

SSAIS April NewsletterThe movement to address sexual harassment and assault in K-12  schools received new impetus with the launch of the #MeTooK12 campaign, an SSAIS initiative in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center. We unveiled the new hashtag on social media as #MeToo creator Tarana Burke rang in 2018 at Times Square. #MeTooK12 connects the dots between sexual harassment in K-12 schools, college, and the workplace. The movement both promotes awareness and inspires action to counteract pervasive sexual harassment and sexual violence in K-12 schools.

Over 35 TV, radio, print, and online media reports feature the new SSAIS initiative, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Teen Vogue, and more.

Ms. Magazine published “#MeTooK12: Teens are Speaking Out About Assault and Harassment in Schools,” by SSAIS teen advisor Minnah Stein. Education Post published SSAIS advisor Michelle Seyler’s “I Was Sexually Abused by Another Student and It Never Should Have Happened.” Advisor Chellie Labonete’s tweets appear in many media reports, and the SSAIS Co-founders contributed to several print and TV outlets. There’s also a Wikipedia entry on the #MeTooK12 campaign.

New resources are regularly added to the SSAIS #MeTooK12 webpage. One of our favorites is Susan Moen’s blog, “Parents: You Can Become the Agent of Change for Title IX Policies in Your Schools.”

Visit the #MeTooK12 webpage and #MeTooK12 Facebook page for the latest postings.

New Free SSAIS Toolkit 

SSAIS April NewsletterSSAIS has just released a new online toolkit and PSA for parents, students, and their allies to address K-12 sexual harassment and assault. Share it widely.

SSAIS Delves into Students’ Rights at Private Schools

SSAIS April NewsletterSSAIS announced that a survivor’s family filed an important Title IX lawsuit against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s alma mater, Holland Christian School. The lawsuit resulted after the family contacted SSAIS and learned about their Title IX rights. Watch the short SSAIS video to learn what this case means for all students.

SSAIS April NewsletterSSAIS created a new webpage to inform K-12 private schools families about their Title IX rights. It includes an important blog, Private K-12 Schools and Title IX, and a video created especially for SSAIS by the parents of Chessy Prout, the survivor of the St. Paul’s School rape, which received international attention.

New Resource on How to File a Title IX Complaint

SSAIS April NewsletterSSAIS collaborated with Dr. Bill Howe to create the guide How to File a Title IX Complaint in K-12 Schools: A Guide for Parents and Guardians. It’s for those wanting to file a complaint regarding sexual harassment, sexual violence, sex discrimination, and other violations of state and federal civil rights laws regarding gender discrimination.

American Federation of Teachers Virtual Conference Keynote Session

SSAIS April NewsletterSSAIS joined The National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood to present a keynote session at the American Federation of Teachers Share My Lesson annual Virtual Conference. Watch the recorded session #MeTooK12 and #MeToo: What does it mean for schools? (free registration required).

Supporting Families

SSAIS continues to help families whose schools have violated their right to an education free from sexual harassment and assault.

We recently focused on the case of high school freshman Katlin Hoffman in North Carolina. We connected her with a journalist who profiled her case in an article titled “This girl reported being sexually assaulted twice at her high school. Her principal told her to ‘toughen up’ and get over it.” FOX 46 television in Charlotte interviewed SSAIS about Katlin’s case.

SSAIS in Wikipedia

SSAIS now has its own Wikipedia entry.

Support SSAIS

Everyone at SSAIS is a volunteer, so 100% of your tax-deductible donation goes to free education programs. Every contribution in any amount counts. Thank you!

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The Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Betsy DeVos’s High School Alma Mater: What It Means For Every Student

by Esther Warkov, Executive Director, SSAIS

There are phone calls a parent never wants to get. We received one such call, informing us that our daughter had been raped on a school field trip. Living through the nightmare of the rape and its aftermath was devastating, but equally traumatic was the fallout we experienced when the school failed to uphold our daughter’s civil rights under Title IX.  Like countless families, we became victims of “institutional betrayal,” as I describe in Why We Need Title IX to Let Her Learn: A Parent’s Perspective. Little did we know our experience would later provide an opportunity to educate the US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, about the violation of Title IX in her own alma mater, Holland Christian School, and to explain why this lawsuit is so important for all students.

As secondary victims of our daughter’s assault, we parents have come full circle: we are empowered advocates, educating families about their rights under Title IX, the civil rights law we knew little about when we needed it the most. Our understanding of Title IX now likely exceeds that of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It’s both ironic and telling that parents who were once victims are obliged to call out Betsy DeVos’s alma mater for violating Title IX.  Although we deplore the weak level of Title IX enforcement in both public and private schools, we take satisfaction in the opportunity to use this case as a “teachable moment.”

Today, we announce the lawsuit against Holland Christian School and explain what this means for millions of public and private school students. Learn why in short video The Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Betsy DeVos’s High School Alma Mater. Read the video transcript here.

SSAIS raises awareness of the detrimental effects on students of DeVos Title IX guidance rescission

SSAIS raises awareness of the detrimental effects on students of DeVos Title IX guidance rescissionIn a strongly worded letter to Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) opposed “any effort by this administration to repeal, replace, or modify any of Title IX’s regulations or guidance documents” that were open for public comment.

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org), one of 30 national NCWGE member organizations, is spearheading awareness of the potential negative effects on K-12 students of rescinding Title IX-related guidance and any weakening of the Department’s oversight and enforcement role.

SSAIS raises awareness of the detrimental effects on students of DeVos Title IX guidance rescissionThe NCWGE is a national nonprofit that educates the public about issues concerning equal rights for women and girls in education. SSAIS contributed to the recent NCWGE publication Title IX at 45: Advancing Opportunity through Equity in Education.

 

We Can’t Wait: Solutions to K-12 Sexual Harassment and Assault

Originally appeared in the Huffington Post

We Can’t Wait: Solutions to K-12 Sexual Harassment and AssaultSexual harassment and assault are forms of sex discrimination and they occur at alarming rates in K-12 schools. Recent reports like “Hidden horror of school sex assaults revealed by AP” and “Ending Sexual Harassment and Assault: Effective Measures Protect All Students” confirm just how rampant these problems are. The attention afforded to transgender students’ rights should also prompt us to broaden our understanding of sex discrimination, a serious problem for all students. Students’ civil rights are violated daily because schools are failing to fulfill their responsibilities under Title IX, a federal civil rights law.

Researchers, national gender equity organizations, and the CDC have provided sufficient data to demonstrate how sexual harassment and assault negatively impact K-12 students. Yet the public remains in the dark because these violations are under-reported by students, who have been forced to normalize sexual harassment, and by schools guarding their reputations. It’s not surprising that national studies show a glaring discrepancy between the small number of schools reporting incidents of sexual harassment and the large number of students saying they experience it.

Sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are community problems. Research shows that the majority of teenage students have been affected by peer sexual harassment but rarely seek help. Because schools frequently discount or dismiss reports of sexual harassment or assault, students are discouraged from reporting; many of these victims become perpetrators of sexual harassment. By failing to properly address sexual harassment, schools foster a climate where sexual harassment and assault occur. Sexual violence on college campuses and sexual harassment in the workplace occur because students are afforded ample opportunity to practice these behaviors in their formative years.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs. But few families understand the broad protections the law affords beyond ensuring equal athletic opportunities. After our tenth grader was raped on a high school field trip, we also had no idea that Title IX required the school to take specific actions. The nightmare of sexual assault was exacerbated by the school’s failure to implement Title IX. By the time we learned of our daughter’s rights it was too late for the required prompt and equitable investigation; by then the school district had acquired “alternate facts.” Betrayed by our school, we brought a US Department of Education investigation to the Seattle school district. Using the national attention our case received, we spearheaded a national movement to educate the public about sex discrimination in K-12 schools. From our work with families across the country and national gender equity organizations, we cannot overemphasize the urgent need for Title IX compliance.

With the Trump administration and Department of Education leadership, we cannot expect vigorous Title IX enforcement from the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Since we can’t count on federal oversight we must compel compliance through community engagement. The solution requires a massive grass roots education effort to inform families, schools, and local organizations about schools’ responsibilities, students’ Title IX rights, and recourses when schools fail, we told the Washington Post last year.

To fill this need, the national nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools created comprehensive free education for the K-12 audience, Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! The streaming video and action plan model a collaborative effort where students work alongside parents and community organizations to create Title IX compliant schools. It follows a high school gender equity club strategizing to address sex discrimination, interviewing nationally recognized education, legal, and LGBTQ experts, and learning from counselors, advocates, parents, and peers. In one enlightening scenario, students watch San Francisco Unified’s Title IX Coordinator, attorney Keasara Williams, properly address a parent-actor’s complaint—an important model for Coordinators who remain largely untrained. One student concludes that, “When we make change at school, we’re changing society too.”

When the school and local community implement the recommended actions, they will reduce the traumatic effects of sexual harassment and assault, ensure better outcomes for students, and address behaviors that lead to sexual assault on college campuses and sexual harassment in the workplace. Sex discrimination, in its many manifestations, is the 21st century civil rights issue for students. In these uncertain times, we must arm communities with Title IX education now.

Related:

With Trump’s Title IX stance unknown, video aims to educate about sexual harassment at school

Film takes aim at national K-12 sexual assault, student rights

Sexual Assault: A 21st Century Civil Rights Issue

Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem. It happens in K-12 schools, too.

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Sexual Abuse in Elite Private Schools: What the Spotlight Team Asked Us

by Esther Warkov

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on May 9, 2017

The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-prize winning investigative team, Spotlight, was portrayed in the academy-award winning movie “Spotlight” about its 2002 expose of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The Globe has now published a report by Spotlight journalists titled “Private Schools, Painful Secrets,” about sexual abuse of students in elite private schools.

In preparation for this report, the Spotlight journalists asked Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org) to explain “whether there is anything specific about private schools that makes it fertile ground for sex abuse to go undetected for years and/or for schools to be more likely to cover it up.” Here’s what we told them:

With increasing awareness of widespread sexual harassment and assault in K-12 schools, you’d expect parents to investigate the possibility of sexual harassment and misconduct in their chosen private school. Instead families mistakenly assume that private schools provide a safe haven from the risky behaviors they associate with public schools. It’s difficult to imagine applicants in pursuit of placement asking for the school’s sexual harassment statistics at the admissions interview!

Exposing sexual harassment and misconduct is never easy but private school culture offers unique challenges. Parents enter the private school community with high expectations commensurate with high tuition. Sex abuse cases taint schools’ ability to both attract students and raise funds in support of their endowments. Who would want to pay $50, 000 tuition or fund an endowment where there is sexual abuse? Once a child is admitted, parents are so emotionally and financially invested in their student’s success that it may be impossible to accept or act upon reports of sexual harassment and abuse—this coupled with the fact that these schools are small and “everyone knows everyone.” What parent wants to be a social outcast?

Some teachers are so adulated that a student’s report of misconduct is considered sacrilege. Students who might report fear that adults will not believe them, that they will be shamed or thrown out entirely. Fear, intimidation, and loss of opportunity are strong deterrents to reporting. If confronted, the school will likely deny, distort the facts, or devalue the student’s rights. Imagine the student’s future at the school after reporting. How many families who have endured the trauma of reporting and the school’s response would then relish spotlighting the abuse with a lawsuit?

To protect the school’s reputation, school administrators buy into a “code of silence.” This code of silence is enabled by mandatory reporting protection laws that seem tough but lack teeth and can be vague or confusing. Moreover, there is no real penalty for not reporting. In Massachusetts, mandated reporters are only subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 if they fail to report; in New Hampshire knowingly failing to report is only a misdemeanor. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Agency, mandated reporters, such as teachers, fail to report because they are unclear about the responsibly to report and may fear legal proceedings or retaliation from the alleged abuser. There’s a bill under consideration that would make it a crime in Massachusetts to fail to report a complaint of sexual misconduct in public and private schools. In short there’s no incentive to report and no real penalty for failing to report.

Few parents understand their recourses when sexual harassment and misconduct occur at a school—whether private or public. Any school receiving federal funding—and many private schools do—is accountable to the U.S. Department of Education for enforcement of Title IX, a civil rights law that includes the right to an equal education free from sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. Parents might assume that because their particular school didn’t receive federal funding, it is exempt from Title IX responsibilities. A recent court decision set a precedent that if a private school accepts federal funds, Title IX applies to that school and all other schools within the same organization. If a school can be held accountable to Title IX, families have a far wider range of rights and recourses.

Private schools that aren’t subject to DOE guidelines and enforcement of Title IX enjoy a degree of latitude -depending on their state laws—regarding their obligations to prevent and report sexual harassment and abuse, according to State Regulation of Private Schools published by the US Department of Education. This document suggests that some states have no requirement that private schools address or report sexual assault and abuse; Massachusetts, for example, is only required to proactively address hazing, but not sexual harassment or assault.

It’s ironic that parents send children to private schools to avoid sexual harassment and misconduct only to find out that when it does occur, public schools offer far more protection under Title IX. Families might rightly argue that Title IX establishes a level of care for all schools, and that private school students deserve the same level of protection available to public school students.

Selected related articles:

Washington Post: Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem. It happens in K-12 schools, too
Lawmakers Shift Campus Rape Conversation to High Schools
As the Mother of a Rape Victim I Know Consent Education Is Not Enough
Activists Take Aim At High Schools For Mishandling Sexual Assault
What the White House Asked Us About K-12 Sexual Violence

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How Can Schools And Parents Address Donald Trump’s Statements Describing Sexual Assault?

by Esther Warkov

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on November 8, 2016.

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org) is receiving inquiries about how K-12 schools should address Donald Trump’s recent statements on sexual assault.

At a time when we’re acknowledging an epidemic of sexual harassment and violence that includes K-12 schools, Trump’s remarks provide an unprecedented learning opportunity for schools, parents, and youth-serving organizations to discuss sexual harassment, students’ civil rights, and how families can create safe schools with full gender equity.

To maximize this education opportunity,”The discussion shouldn’t be politicized. There are thoughtful questions to be raised and insights to be gleaned; partisanship only gets in the way,” says Dr. Joel Levin, Director of Programs for SSAIS.

“I suggest teachers ask students to think about where the attitude towards women expressed by Trump and Bush come from. How do they become normalized—i.e. accepted as just ‘what guys say when women aren’t around,’ or ‘locker room banter?’ How are students exposed to these messages? Ask male and female students if they’ve heard this type of talk and how they felt about it. What needs to change so that the attitudes exemplified by Trump’s remarks aren’t dismissed as just normal guy talk?”

Next, discuss sexual objectification. Teachers can ask students a simple series of questions: “How does the way we talk about women lead to sexual objectification?” “How does sexual objectification lead to sexual harassment and assault?” Then bring it home. Ask: “How are students negatively impacted by sexual harassment and assault?” “What can we do about it?” “What should our school do about it?”

Occidental College Professor and Activist Caroline Heldman provides a succinct explanation in the forthcoming SSAIS educational video Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! “When people see women only as sex objects that exist for others, then women are not regarded as full human beings; dehumanizing a group is the first step in justifying violence against that group.” Until the free video education is released next month, students can watch her TEDx talk The Sexy Lie to understand these issues. It’s also the perfect time to introduce students to the 2011 film Miss Representation, readily available online.

In addition,”Teachers should ask students to think about how gender stereotypes narrow full human expression in males and females. Point out that gender equality is not just a female issue; men too are victims of gender roles that limit and confine their behavior to stereotypes of masculinity. Mention that many men felt offended by generalizations that, like all men, they subscribe to the same attitudes expressed by Trump,” Dr. Levin recommends.

In this connection, teachers should ask students to react to Professor Marc Grimmett’s statement in Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School!: “Men and boys need to explore the freedom to be full human beings by moving beyond rigid gender roles and expectations of domination, control, and violence.”

SSAIS recommends that we ask students if gender stereotypes are a driving force behind discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Emphasize that everyone benefits when people are accepted for themselves and not how they measure up against gendered expectations. “This is also a great entree into a discussion of how historically women and minorities have been denied opportunities and how our society becomes enriched when everyone can contribute their ideas, talents, and abilities as equals. Ask at what age should students begin to reflect on and discuss gender stereotypes,” Dr. Levin suggests.

We can use Trump’s remarks to educate students about their rights. “Sexual harassment and sexual violence are civil rights issues, and as a student, you have the right to an education without sexual harassment or violence,” Professor Heldman tells students in Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! Teachers can talk about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination (including sexual harassment) in all education programs receiving federal funds. Teachers (and parents) can also discuss how language—and even sexual gestures—are forms of sexual harassment. Teachers should direct students to their recourses when they encounter sexual harassment at school.

Sexual harassment and assault occur in K-12 schools at alarming rates, bleeding into the lives of our children, co-workers, and friends. No comprehensive educational effort to addresses this issue for K-12 students and families has existed until the creation of the free video Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! Learn more about this education in this pre-release media report or at SSAIS.org.

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An Unprecedented Opportunity To Teach K-12 Students About Sexual Harassment

by Esther Warkov

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on October 18, 2016.

National gender equity organizations, legal and education experts, informed elected officials, and education journalists have identified an epidemic of sexual harassment and violence that extends to K-12 schools. The presidential campaign provides an unprecedented learning opportunity for schools, parents, and youth-serving organizations to discuss sexual harassment, students’ civil rights, and how families can create safe schools with full gender equity.

To maximize this education opportunity, “The discussion shouldn’t be politicized. There are thoughtful questions to be raised and insights to be gleaned; partisanship only gets in the way,” says Dr. Joel Levin, Director of Programs for Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org)

“I suggest teachers ask students to think about how statements objectifying women become normalized—i.e. accepted as just ‘what guys say when women aren’t around,’ or ‘locker room banter?’ How are students exposed to these messages? Ask male and female students if they’ve heard this type of talk and how they felt about it. What needs to change so that the attitudes exemplified in such remarks aren’t dismissed as just normal guy talk?”

Next, discuss sexual objectification. Teachers can ask students a simple series of questions: “How does the way we talk about women lead to sexual objectification?” “How does sexual objectification lead to sexual harassment and assault?” Then bring it home. Ask: “How are students negatively impacted by sexual harassment and assault?” “What can we do about it?” “What should our school do about it?”

Occidental College Professor and Activist Caroline Heldman provides a succinct explanation in a forthcoming free educational video Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! “When people see women only as sex objects that exist for others, then women are not regarded as full human beings; dehumanizing a group is the first step in justifying violence against that group.” Until the video is released next month, students can watch her TEDx talk The Sexy Lie to understand these issues. It’s also the perfect time to introduce students to the 2011 film Miss Representation, readily available online.

In addition, “Teachers should ask students to think about how gender stereotypes narrow full human expression in males and females. Point out that gender equality is not just a female issue; men too are victims of gender roles that limit and confine their behavior to stereotypes of masculinity. Mention that many men felt offended by generalizations that, like all men, they subscribe to attitudes objectifying women,” Dr. Levin recommends.

In this connection, teachers should ask students to react to Professor Marc Grimmett’s statement in Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School!: “Men and boys need to explore the freedom to be full human beings by moving beyond rigid gender roles and expectations of domination, control, and violence.”

SSAIS recommends that we ask students if gender stereotypes are a driving force behind discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Emphasize that everyone benefits when people are accepted for themselves and not how they measure up against gendered expectations. “This is also a great entree into a discussion of how historically women and minorities have been denied opportunities and how our society becomes enriched when everyone can contribute their ideas, talents, and abilities as equals. Ask at what age should students begin to reflect on and discuss gender stereotypes,” Dr. Levin suggests.

We can use media reports about sexual harassment to educate students about their rights. “Sexual harassment and sexual violence are civil rights issues, and as a student, you have the right to an education without sexual harassment or violence,” Professor Heldman tells students in Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! Teachers can talk about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination (including sexual harassment) in all education programs receiving federal funds. Teachers (and parents) can also discuss how language—and even sexual gestures—are forms of sexual harassment. Teachers should direct students to their recourses when they encounter sexual harassment at school.

Sexual harassment and assault occur in K-12 schools at alarming rates, bleeding into the lives of our children, co-workers, and friends. We believe that addressing sexual harassment in the K-12 training ground is essential to providing better outcomes for K-12 students and decreasing the rate of sexual assault in colleges. Learn more about the first free comprehensive education available to families in this pre-release media report or at SSAIS.org.

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Should Parents Know When Their K-12 School is Under Federal Investigation For Mishandling Sexual Assault?

By SSAIS Co-founder and Executive Director Esther Warkov, Ph.D
Originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

cautionU.S. Department of Education (Office for Civil Rights) investigations of K-12 schools for mishandling reported sexual assault are rapidly rising, yet parents rarely know when their child’s school is under investigation. That’s because school districts have little incentive to disclose this information. Recently the media revealed that California’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified, had been under federal scrutiny for violating Title IX since December 2014. A follow-up report entitled “Should San Diego, Carlsbad Schools Have Told Parents About Sex-Assault Investigations?” prompted SSAIS.org to bring this topic to a wider audience.

The question has provoked commentary from national education equity organizations and advocates who say that school districts should inform parents about federal investigations. Senior Vice President for Program at the National Women Law Center, Fatima Goss Graves tweeted: “It’s unfortunate if they [San Diego Unified] did not engage the parent community. Parents and students are key parts of the solution.”

In a report aired on KPBS radio, Title IX expert Jules Irvin-Rooney said, “San Diego Unified and other school districts should see these federal investigations as an opportunity to teach parents and students about Title IX, the anti-discrimination law that requires school districts to protect students at K-12 schools from sexual violence and sexual harassment. At the very least . . . districts should tell their communities that they are the subject of a federal investigation and that they are cooperating with authorities.”

Unfortunately, there are few media reports that inform the public about K-12 sexual assault investigations by the U.S. Department of Education. The report on the investigation of San Diego unified is particularly illuminating for its inclusion of the parents’ complaint and OCR’s resolution letter spelling out its findings.

The parents’ complaint recounted a series of attempts to hold the district accountable after their kindergarten son was sexually assaulted in the bathroom. The OCR resolution letter reveals how the district claimed its zero tolerance for sexual harassment did not apply to elementary schools “because elementary students do not have the relevant mental state for engaging in sexually harassing behavior.” Reports state that the district fired its own investigator, whitewashed the investigation report, blamed other young victims, and supported the principal who had failed to appropriately respond.

San Diego Unified is not an isolated case. In January, The Washington Post reported on an emerging epidemic of civil rights violations in “Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem. It happens in K-12 schools, too.” To raise awareness about students’ rights under Title IX, SSAIS.org spotlights the efforts of education advocates across the country. Community efforts in San Diego and Berkeley, CA, among other locations, demonstrate how advocates must form grassroots movements to address sexual harassment and assault in their own school districts until schools are compelled to become Title IX compliant.

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Parents and Educators Take on Sexual Assault in California’s Second Largest School District

By SSAIS Co-founder and Executive Director Esther Warkov, Ph.D

To raise awareness about students’ rights under Title IX, SSAIS.org spotlights the efforts of education advocates across the country. Earlier we looked at education activists in Berkeley, CA. Here we look at community activism in California’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified.

SD Unified Student Abuse ReportSan Diego Unified School District was recently the subject of media reports describing how the district’s mishandling of sexual assaults warranted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education (Office for Civil Rights). According to reporter Chris Young who broke the story, the federal investigation occurred after the school failed to appropriately respond to a sexual assault report involving a kindergarten boy in the bathroom. In their complaint, the victim’s parents recounted a series of obstacles that illustrate how school districts avoid following prescribed complaint pathways.

To excuse the district’s failures, the San Diego district claimed that its zero tolerance for sexual harassment did not apply to elementary schools “because elementary students do not have the relevant mental state for engaging in sexually harassing behavior.” Young’s report is exemplary for its inclusion of the OCR resolution letter and links to important background information.

Concerned San Diego educator and parent advocates have created the website District Deeds: Investigating San Diego Unified School District. The website includes media reports, documents illustrating violations of students, and a map showing the schools where assaults occurred. “Despite the large number of assaults on the map, there are considerably more because school police do not report crimes on the campuses, as required by California state laws,” said one educator-advocate, Judy Neufeld-Fernandez.

Undisclosed sexual harassment and violence at San Diego Unified illustrates a serious problem that affects students nationwide. According to Neufeld-Fernandez, “a culture of secrecy in San Diego Unified School District has led to the sexual abuse of students. The betrayal begins with the public’s trust that our schools are safe: the public is unaware that schools are fertile ground for sexual predators. In 2004, the US Department of Education published data stating that nearly 10% of students surveyed report being the victim of sexual molestation at school. Yet only 11% of educators say they would report sex abuse of children. These two statistics are a galvanizing wake-up call for parents. Schools are failing to protect kids and parents must step up their own means of protection. We hear constantly of children in the care of adults being preyed upon in the news. Yet, for each publicized incident, many incidents are suppressed and parents are kept in the dark.”

Social worker and San Diego parent Lucy Wuellner recommends that to “shatter the culture of silence, districts must clearly define the reporting process, include reporting laws and definitions of abuse (adult and peer) in their literature and on their websites. And just as important, teacher and school administrators must fulfill their responsibility as mandatory reporters. A mandated reporter’s responsibility is to report, not to convict. Failure to report should be met with severe consequences e.g. suspension or dismissal.”

San Diego advocates want their district to provide a spectrum of training that ranges from implementing federal safeguards like Title IX to local procedures. Neufeld-Fernandez is concerned that “parents’ pleas to implement low-cost child protection measures were ignored,” and “efforts to introduce and implement a variety of training measures were met with a tepid response. The SDUSD actively dismissed programs found effective elsewhere such as Florida’s Department of Education’s Educator Misconduct program.”

San Diego advocates believe that their district’s pervasive problems must be remedied through a public awareness campaign to bring about culture change. They want an independent agency for investigations of abuse in schools, clarification for teachers and administrators about how organizations like Child Protective Services, District Attorney, San Diego Police and San Diego Unified School Police fit into the constellation of resources serving students. According to Lucy Wuellner, “this will result in a continuum of support rather than cases falling through the agency cracks.” She believes that “turning the culture of silence into a culture of vigilance” (in the words of Charles Wilson, Director of the Chadwick Center for Children and Families) needs to be the community’s war-cry.

The culture of vigilance must extend nationwide. That’s why Stop Sexual Assault in Schools received funding from the American Association of University Women to educate families about students’ right to an education free from sexual harassment, violence, and gender based discrimination under Title IX. Until schools have an incentive to comply with Title IX, students, families, and stakeholders must be proactively engaged to safeguard students’ rights. By so doing, we improve outcomes for K-12 students while addressing the breeding ground for college sexual assault.

Related Reports

Should San Diego, Carlsbad Schools Have Told Parents About Sex-Assault Investigations?

Federal Sex-Assault Investigation Leads To SD Unified Reform; Carlsbad Inquiry Ongoing

Combatting the Epidemic of K-12 Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence

What the White House Asked Us About K-12 Sexual Violence

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What the White House Asked Us About K-12 Sexual Violence

by Esther Warkov

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on April 14, 2016.

The White House VP’s office last month invited four organizations to participate in a discussion of K-12 sexual violence. Everyone present (Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, the American Association of University Women, the National Women’s Law Center, Girls Inc., and the VP’s office) readily acknowledged the gravity of K-12 sexual violence. Yet policymakers and the public remain in the dark. It wasn’t enough that the CDC declared adolescent sexual violence a serious health threat back in 2012. Policymakers—along with the public—haven’t connected the dots: sexual harassment and violence are not isolated events. No, sexual harassment and violence are devastating students’ lives on a daily basis across the country, even in the “best” schools. Students have come to view sexual harassment as normative, and even take blame for sexual assault. Schools routinely downplay or deny reports of sexual misconduct so that students have no incentive to report. Yet, even with limited reporting, the word is slowly getting out. Perhaps it will soon dawn on policymakers—and the public—that college campus assault has its origins in the K-12 breeding ground.

A significant challenge is how to address this unspeakable topic, one which lawmakers and parents are disinclined to face. The White House representative wondered how K-12 sexual violence could be broached and what research exists to support its impact on students’ education. Whether or not sufficient research has been conducted—or can be conducted—shouldn’t prevent the government from remedying this epidemic: everyone in the field knows that sexual violence is taking down students’ lives at an alarming rate. We also know that schools are notoriously non-compliant with Title IX, a federal civil rights law that guarantees an equal education free from sexual harassment and sexual violence. Schools have no motivation to become Title IX compliant since the penalty for noncompliance—withholding federal funds—is not applied. It will take a plethora of lawsuits alongside public outcry to incentivize schools to protect K-12 students from sexual harassment and violence.

While policymakers turn a blind eye on K-12 sexual violence and schools suppress reports of sexual violence, the media must expose this epidemic. Although we’ve seen reports on a few egregious cases of sexual violence, the media has failed to inform the public about the everyday violations that destroy students’ educations and lives. The Washington Post recently reported on the magnitude of K-12 sexual violence and profiled the SSAIS movement to address it. Yet there are countless cases that should be in the news on a daily basis. Consider, for example, media apathy to a press release concerning multiple rapes in an Indiana school district that earned it a federal investigation: not a single news outlet produced an in-depth report on this alarming case. It’s critically important that the media report — even if only from the victim’s perspective — when other parties refuse to cooperate. These brave K-12 survivors and families deserve the opportunity to educate the public just as college students have raised our awareness of campus sexual violence. We are in the dark ages when it comes to the epidemic of K-12 sexual violence. It is the civil rights issue of today’s youth.

Combating the Epidemic of K-12 Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence

By SSAIS Co-founder and Executive Director Esther Warkov, Ph.D

kyleThere’s a hidden epidemic of sexual harassment and sexual violence in our K-12 schools. Like countless families, we didn’t know about this threat until our tenth grader was raped on a school fieldtrip in 2012. In that year, the CDC declared sexual violence a serious health concern for adolescents. Although journalists have reported on the most glaring cases of sexual violence, no one was talking about pervasive sexual harassment/assault in our schools and its relationship to college sexual violence. So we reached out to The Washington Post’s national education reporter Emma Brown who addressed the epidemic in a front page report “Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem. It happens in K-12 schools, too” and profiled the work of our nonprofit (SSAIS.org). Huff Post Senior Education reporter Tyler Kingkade also reported on an emerging movement to address K-12 sexual violence, noting that SSAIS is “putting school districts everywhere on notice: drop the ball when a student reports a sexual assault, and [they’ll] expose it to the world.” 

Students are sick of sexual harassment, unwelcome touching, and sexual assault, which infect what should be a safe learning environment. Because sexual harassment has become normative, schools are in crisis. Sex-based harassment causes real emotional, psychological, and economic damage to students. Victims are often forced to attend classes with perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence. Feeling uncomfortable and unsafe at school correlates with declining academic performance, skipping school, and dropping out. Many students never “get over it;” they take their own lives.

Although schools are required under Title IX to proactively address sexual harassment and violence at school, they rarely do. That’s why SSAIS is spearheading a national movement to educate students about their rights and recourses which include filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Education and taking action through an Activism Toolkit. We also encourage students, families, educators, and community stakeholders to explore one simple procedure that prompts school districts to become Title IX compliant.

To raise awareness on how families can combat sexual harassment and violence in schools, SSAIS is spotlighting the exemplary activism of Berkeley High School Stop Harassing (BHSSH). We’re impressed by their student campaign to change the culture around sexual harassment as they illuminate “the many and varied awful incidents students are enduring due to unresponsive and indifferent school board and administration practices in the face of their obligations under Title IX to provide a safe learning environment,” BHSSH Adult Advisor, Heidi Goldstein summarized. Like schools across the country, “Sadly, the School Board, BUSD Administration, and the BHS Site Administration are continuing to treat issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence as a series of isolated events, rather than the cultural problem that they really are. We are asking these governing bodies for comprehensive student and staff training on these topics and a simplified complaint process, one that students know how to and feel comfortable using,” according to the BHSSH Steering Committee.

Among the group’s many activities is their Story-A-Day campaign in which school board directors receive a daily account of sexual harassment. “As students continue to feel unsafe coming forward when they are hurt, we decided to give them a voice by allowing them to send us their anonymous stories through cards collected in classrooms, Instagram, and the BHS Stop Harassing website.” SSAIS recommends perusing the BHSSH website and viewing their video.

SSAIS asked Heidi Goldstein to provide suggestions for parents of sexually harassed and assaulted students. “First and foremost, stand by your student and get them the help they want to feel safe at school and reassured that you’ve got their back. Understand that school districts approach incidents of sexual harassment, battery or assault as risk management problems; they will do what they can to minimize their exposure and liability and make your problem go away. Your student’s needs are secondary to this in their schema.” SSAIS has seen this play out in countless school districts.

Next, “After an incident parents need to connect immediately with the school site administrator — typically the Principal — and the school district Compliance Officer or Title IX Coordinator to determine next steps. If the school district doesn’t have a Compliance Officer, Title IX Coordinator or other employee explicitly tasked with these responsibilities, parents should insist on a meeting as soon as possible with the Superintendent, who is ultimately accountable for these issues.” SSAIS advises that parents take note if the Superintendent or Title IX officer abdicates responsibility to the general counsel; this is a prohibited conflict, as occurred in our family’s case. Heidi continues:

Parents should be very clear on the remedy they want for their student (example: require the harasser or assailant to transfer out of their student’s class to minimize further exposure) and put this in writing using the district’s formal reporting or complaint processes, which typically require the district to respond to you in writing at regular intervals on their progress and findings. It is often challenging to make the school district step up to its responsibilities so frequent follow up and repetition of your expectations is critical to making progress, as is your ability to push hard on issues of disclosure.

To learn more about what parents can expect when advocating for their students’ rights, how schools minimize and dismiss complaints, and how students are enriched through such activism, read the full interview with Heidi Goldstein.

As families and equity advocates like BHSSH hold schools accountable to Title IX, they must “ensure that Title IX Coordinators exist and that they fulfill their gender equity leadership role,” Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity director Dr. Sue Klein reminds us. While every school district is required to have a Title IX coordinator, finding that person can require several steps. She encourages families and equity advocates to proactively identify Title IX coordinators and hire/train them, when needed. She also recommends “meeting with the Title IX Coordinators and making sure that they have copies of the OCR guidance and that they develop specific accountability and action plans to identify and remediate sex discrimination in their school. They should insure the collection and analysis of accountability information disaggregated by sex, race, and other pertinent characteristics needed to assure equity.” Schools’ websites must have all relevant information concerning Title IX compliance, as she details here. Dr. Klein insightfully recommends that Title IX coordinators be invited to present their work to community and parent organizations, thereby spotlighting their responsibilities.

If sexual harassment and assault are to be remedied, student, parent, and community involvement is essential. Dr. Klein places importance on forming advisory groups that regularly meet with Title IX Coordinators to address and prevent sex discrimination. “The advisory groups may be established for multiple schools and should include relevant gender equity experts as well as equity advocates within the schools such as union representatives or supportive school board members.” And she recommends “making full use of national gender equity organizations’ websites including the members of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education and SSAIS.org” to inform students of their rights and recourses.

The time is here to both improve outcomes for K-12 students and address the breeding ground for college sexual assault. As Fatima Goss Graves, Senior VP of Program at the National Women’s Law Center, wrote in her inaugural post for the SSAIS website: “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.”

Join us and support a comprehensive education program to eradicate sexual harassment and sexual violence in K-12 schools!

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These families are saying “NO” to sexual harassment and assault in school: Berkeley High School Stop Harassing

bhsstopharassingStudents are sick of sexual harassment, unwelcome touching, and sexual assault that infect what should be a safe learning environment. Sex-based harassment causes real emotional, psychological, and economic damage to students. Victims are often forced to attend classes with perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence. Feeling uncomfortable and unsafe at school correlates with declining academic performance, skipping school, and dropping out. Some students never “get over it;” they take their own lives.

Although schools are required under Title IX to proactively address sexual harassment and violence at school, they rarely do. That’s why SSAIS is spearheading a national movement to address K-12 sexual violence by raising awareness, helping families file complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, and encouraging activism through its Activism Toolkit.

SSAIS has been following the exemplary activism of Berkeley High School Stop Harassing (BHSSH) group since December 2014 and has spotlighted their work. Here’s a great introductory video capturing the group’s award-winning efforts.  This month, BHSSH has enacted a Story-A- Day campaign in which school board directors receive a daily account of sexual harassment. We reached out to BHSSH Adult Advisor, Heidi Goldstein, to share her experience for the benefit of students nationwide.

SSAIS:  Heidi, can you provide a brief overview of the organization?

Heidi:  BHS Stop Harassing (BHSSH) is a student-led grass roots movement that originated in Berkeley, CA in the autumn of 2014 due to student outrage over a Berkeley High School administrator’s remarks at multiple back-to-school assemblies that equated how girls dressed with how they could expect to be treated with respect to sexual harassment.

BHSSH started as a handful of energized students sitting around a kitchen table talking about the culture of harassment at their high school.  It has evolved to become an organization (not a school club) that meets regularly to pursue advocacy and actions to change the culture of sexual violence and harassment in the Berkeley Unified School District.  In June 2015 BHSSH was recognized by the national Title IX advocacy organization, Equal Rights Advocates, at their annual gala as their 2015 “Champions of Justice.”  Earlier this year the group was honored with a prize and stipend from the Futures Without Violence Respect Challenge Grant. BHSSH can be found on our websiteInstagram and Facebook

SSAIS:  What can parents do when students are sexually harassed at school?

Heidi:  First and foremost, stand by your student and get them the help they want to feel safe at school and reassured that you’ve got their back.  Understand that school districts approach incidents of sexual harassment, battery or assault as risk management problems; they will do what they can to minimize their exposure and liability and make your problem go away.  Your student’s needs are secondary to this in their schema.

After an incident parents need to connect immediately with the school site administrator — typically the Principal — and the school district Compliance Officer or Title IX Coordinator to determine next steps.  If the school district doesn’t have a Compliance Officer, Title IX Coordinator or other employee explicitly tasked with these responsibilities, parents should insist on a meeting as soon as possible with the Superintendent, who is ultimately accountable for these issues.

SSAIS: In our district, an inadequately trained Title IX Coordinator abdicated responsibility to the school district’s attorney, a clearly prohibited conflict. What else can families expect?

Heidi: Some school districts immediately bring their attorney into the mix.  You can’t prevent this and you may not have the resources, or wish, to hire an attorney to represent you, but you can insist that district staff participate in a meeting along with their attorney and that they explain to you — and provide in writing — how their policy applies to the incident and how the incident will be investigated and documented.  They should also describe how and when this information will be communicated to you and how decisions will be made regarding your student’s ongoing safety at school.  You will also want to know about any processes in place to appeal decisions.  They should provide to you the Board Policy (BP) and companion Administrative Regulation (AR) that govern such incidents.

Parents should be very clear on the remedy they want for their student (example:  require the harasser or assailant to transfer out of their student’s class to minimize further exposure) and put this in writing using the district’s formal reporting or complaint processes, which typically require the district to respond to you in writing at regular intervals on their progress and findings.  It is often challenging to make the school district step up to its responsibilities so frequent follow up and repetition of your expectations is critical to making progress, as is your ability to push hard on issues of disclosure.

Finally, using social media, neighborhood email lists, word of mouth, or PTA contacts,  parents should seek out others who have been through this same circumstance.  These folks understand what you are going through and can offer good support; their advice is valuable and may help you to avoid delays and unsatisfactory outcomes.

SSAIS: What are some of the problems families face when holding schools accountable?

Heidi:  Both schools and school districts have the opportunity to be accountable – or not – when an incident occurs. Typically it is the policies and practices defined by the school district that drive the activities of the administrative staff at the school where the incident occurred.  Often school staff work in consultation with school district staff when an incident occurs.  Whether by design or due to other factors, such as lack of staff training, the biggest accountability problem by far is lack of follow-up to an incident.

This can manifest as a lack of clarity as to who is “in charge” of responding to the incident, handling the investigation, making decisions around safety or discipline, or communicating with parents/students about progress and findings.  Sometimes this presents as a constantly changing cast of characters who are charged with responding or making decision.  Sometimes the point of contact assigned to the parents/students is a school district representative who cannot make decisions and who is not involved in the investigation or resolution of the incident. All these approaches put an excessive burden on parents/students to get clear information about what is happening.

Another problem is getting clear information about the school’s investigation of an incident as administrators often cite privacy laws – specifically FERPA (for students) and union covenants (for staff) – as the basis for not sharing any information.  It is worth pushing back hard on this as school districts generally take a conservative stance on these issues but it is possible to share many elements of the findings without direct violation of privacy protections.  A frequent and unfortunate fall back for school districts to avoid accountability is to claim that their attorneys have told them they cannot share “privileged” information.  This stance leaves complaining parents little choice but to pursue public records disclosure requests, also an undue burden.

Some schools or school districts skirt accountability by using “railroading” tactics such as telling complaining parents or students that the matter is being handled and there is no further need for their involvement – and then ceasing all activity around the incident.  A truly unfortunate practice I have personally experienced is “jamming,” where a decision to be enacted on the following Monday was communicated to me via email just at the close of business on the prior Friday afternoon, leaving limited options to get in touch with authorized school district personnel to appeal the decision.

SSAIS: Yes, a school district will often shirk its responsibility to conduct a prompt independent inquiry by saying that “law enforcement is investigating,” even though Title IX specifies that schools must investigate concurrently.  Often schools wrongly claim they have no further responsibility because the perpetrator wasn’t prosecuted. Title IX is very clear that schools must take specific steps to investigate and remedy the hostile environment.

What are other ways you’ve seen a school district minimize or dismiss complaints?

Heidi: There are school districts that rely on the fact that parents are too busy with their jobs or other responsibilities, or are unable to take time off to follow up on incidents; and that these parents/students lack knowledge of their rights or the skills (including basic communication skills for immigrant parents and students whose first language is not English) to insist on school district accountability.   Along with this is a practice of schools leveraging, where they have the opportunity, cultural traditions that hesitate to challenge authority when a decision is communicated, even if the affected parties disagree with it.  This is particularly true of first generation immigrant families and those with undocumented family members.

SSAIS: We also see a similar problem in small communities where the perpetrator’s family is involved in the school administration, athletics, or law enforcement. Those who bring their complaints forward do so at considerable peril. The work of BHSSH provides solidarity and inspiration to those who are isolated after reporting their assaults.

How have the BHSSH students benefitted from their advocacy efforts?

Heidi: The students of BHSSH have benefited from exposure to a wide range of experiences and opportunities that will forever influence their understanding of their ability to make a difference in the world.  They are well respected by their peers and teachers for both their advocacy work and their knowledge of the universe of issues around sexual harassment.

Through their work they have met with national players in the fight for equity on college campuses as well as with researchers in academia and the not-for-profit social services sphere.  They have briefed local leaders (including the Berkeley Commissions on the Status of Women, and Peace and Justice) on the issues and the nature of their advocacy work and have both attended and presented at conferences.  They regularly speak before the Berkeley School District Board of Directors and give interviews to radio, television and print media outlets.  They have published their own writings about sexual harassment advocacy and have made multiple videos on the topic.

BHSSH students have hands-on experience in developing and running campaigns to educate and give voice to student experiences that would otherwise be unheard.  They are about to publish a set of trauma-informed  tools to facilitate student reports of harassment, replacing the school district’s overly complicated and opaque materials.  These experiences and activities have deepened their empathy for others in highly charged and complicated circumstances and have enabled them to construct a nuanced understanding of how change is made.  It is my privilege to serve as an adult advisor to this next generation of leaders and thinkers in this sphere of social activism.

Check out the SSAIS Get Involved and Activism Toolkit pages to find an activity that’s right for you.

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SSAIS co-founder: As the Mother of a Rape Victim I Know Consent Education Is Not Enough

Originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Pen and check boxes

Sure, we’re all about consent. That’s because we know–first hand–the indelible nightmare of sexual assault. Maybe if the tenth grade football player who raped our daughter on a high school field trip had consent education he might have learned that  “Stop” means no and only an enthusiastic “Yes” means yes. Or maybe not. He’d already been suspended for having intercourse in the bushes on the lunch break in 8th grade, according to a public investigation report. Maybe our daughter’s rapist needed consent education in middle school. His Facebook page included posts to “Slap that bitch hard,” among other unmentionable recommendations. He even admitted to the school’s investigators that while our daughter told him multiple times to stop, “I did not pay attention to her that much.”

Consent education is being touted as the solution to the epidemic of sexual assault in our K-12 schools. Can we please stop and think?  Why do we need consent education? If we respect our friends or our students, we don’t treat them like objects for our own gratification. Maybe we really should be educating students about the underlying problem: the pervasive sexual objectification that allows perpetrators and victims to view sexual harassment as normative. We need to be teaching students about rape culture, not just about how to ask for sex. Maybe we also should be teaching students about impulse control: “Hey, I’m about to traumatize a classmate or student for the rest of her/his life. What the hell am I doing?” Does it even matter that it’s wrong?”

In “real life,” consent education doesn’t address the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault occurring in K-12 schools–the “training ground” for college assaults. Consent education won’t help students obtain their right to an equal education under Title IX, a federal civil rights law that numerous school districts fail to understand or implement. Consent education won’t address the many types of assault that plague students’ lives. Say, for example, a girl consents, but later breaks up with the boy; he retaliates by creating a hostile school environment. How will consent education help when the school fails to protect her under Title IX?  Consent education also won’t help victims of devastating cyber sexual harassment where there’s no touching, nothing to consent to.  How will consent education address the epidemic of oral rape in remote areas of school when the school pretends consent occurred, to protect a valued male student or to avoid liability? Consent education won’t help when the victim of an off-campus assault must face the perpetrator at school. Nor will consent education help when lecherous teachers claim they had consent. Consent education won’t help students subject to pervasive sexual harassment–particularly dangerous for girls and LGBTQ students. Consent education won’t help with sexual assault hazing either. In such cases—and countless others—Title IX education is the essential education students and schools need. Without the safeguards Title IX provides, young lives are severely compromised and destroyed.

When our daughter was raped, she, like countless other victims of harassment and assault, expected to be treated with dignity, not like a second class citizen by her school that privileged the assailant’s allegation of “consensual” sex.  Instead, the fear of liability for the assault was always foremost in the school’s strategy. But schools have clearly defined responsibilities under Title IX: to conduct a prompt, impartial investigation independent from law enforcement, to involve the Title IX coordinator, to address retaliation, to create a safe environment to ensure educational continuity, among other duties. Had the school acted appropriately to the report of sexual violence, we’re certain her life and education could have been salvaged. Moreover, schools are required to be proactive and take action, even when sexual harassment or “unwelcome sexual touching” is suspected.

Why do schools focus on consent education when students and families aren’t educated about Title IX rights and safeguards? Because by touting consent education, schools can appear proactive and deflect attention from their own failure to become Title IX compliant. In addition to teaching healthy relationships, school districts must educate themselves, their students, and families about Title IX.  Students must know their recourses when faced with persistent sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual touching. Schools must be made to understand the value of creating a school culture free from sexual harassment, sexual violence, and gender based-discrimination. Until schools step up to the plate, students, parents, and organizations must demand Title IX compliance.

We must raise awareness of the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault until young survivors feel supported and safe reporting.  We’ll begin to see change in K-12 schools when students, parents, PTAs, and school counselors form groups to discuss the right to an education free from sexual harassment, when parents demand Title IX compliance, when schools educate students and staff about Title IX, when the daily school announcement affirms students’ rights, when relevant notebook resources are provided to every student, when athletes step forward to speak against sexual harassment and assault, when peers practice bystander intervention, when students engage in  projects to raise awareness of their rights, when college-aged educators mentor high school students about their risks and rights, and when people from all walks of life care enough to take simple steps to hold schools accountable.

Consent education should never eclipse Title IX education. And the legal implications of affirmative consent (“yes means yes”) must be understood alongside Title IX. That’s another discussion.

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SSAIS co-founder: Why Lady Gaga Should Be Talking to a Rape Victim’s Mother About K-12 Sexual Assault

Originally appeared in The Huffington Post

ladygagaLady Gaga is rightly applauded for her brave efforts to support sexual assault victims. Her performance of ‘Till It Happens to You is an integral part of The Hunting Ground film documenting campus assault, and she recently appeared in a New York “TimesTalks” panel alongside the film’s creators (director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering), her songwriter Dianne Warren, and NY Times journalist and panel moderator Frank Bruni to discuss the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses.

In her TimesTalks panel appearance, Lady Gaga spoke about the secretive nature of sexual assault, but without disclosing a much larger secret–the festering epidemic of sexual violence in The Breeding Ground, our K-12 schools. After an hour-long panel on the pandemic of campus sexual violence, uninformed viewers would conclude that sexual assault originates when vulnerable freshmen arrive at college. But how could this be? Do students turn into predatory monsters between the June of high school graduation and September when the assaults begin in the notorious red zone? Surely rampant sexual assault can’t be attributed to new-found freedom.

Why did Lady Gaga and panelists overlook the fundamental connection between “The Breeding Ground” and “The Hunting Ground”? The K-12 breeding ground is to the hunting ground as germs are to infection, a connection I’ve shared several times with the Hunting Ground team. According to all who monitor current research and reports from K-12 victims, “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,” Fatima Goss Graves, Senior Vice President for Program at the National Women’s Law Center wrote.

The reasons for ignoring the K-12 breeding ground are complex. Campus sexual assault is a “sexier” topic. Prestigious institutions and high profile athlete perpetrators are appealing subjects. Brave college survivors possess some maturity to come forward while K-12 students are struggling with an emerging sense of self. Families of elementary and secondary school students are in denial, terrified to imagine that their child could be assaulted (or might be in situation that could lead to assault). So parents pretend that sexual assault happens to other kids, not “good kids” like theirs. Students themselves have come to view sexual harassment, unwelcome touching, and sexual violence in their schools as normative, despite the toll it takes on their emotional health and education. So why bother to report?

When the few courageous students report, school districts typically stonewall complaints by blaming and shaming students for “consensual” sexual activity (or resort to other tactics) to avoid liability, bad press, and lawsuits. Never mind that schools are mandated under Title IX, a federal civil rights law, to provide students an education free from sexual harassment, unwelcome touching, sexual violence, and gender based discrimination. Most schools don’t even know their responsibilities under Title IX, even though their federal funding depends on enforcing Title IX. School districts’ failure to comply is amply documented by the advocacy nonprofit SSAIS.org.

We learned about Title IX the hard way after our teenage daughter was raped and sodomized by a classmate on a public school fieldtrip. For the last three years, we’ve been in the trenches addressing the aftermath of sexual assault. When the school treated our daughter inequitably, our state level Office of Public Instruction informed us of her Title IX rights, absent the required response from the district’s Title IX coordinator; our complaint resulted in a high profile U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights investigation of the district. But this information came far too late–after experiencing the hellish sexual assault secrets that can’t be fathomed ‘Till It Happens to You, a common refrain among survivor families. Our quest for justice brought us into contact with numerous families who recounted sexual assaults beginning in kindergarten (“The school told us to dress our daughter in spandex pants”). To spare others the nightmare we experienced, we formed the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org) to lead the country in a national movement to educate and empower families.

Lady Gaga and all stakeholders, listen up. Pervasive sexual harassment caused the NY Times designated “Godmother of Title IX,” Dr. Bernice Sandler, to write an entire book devoted to the subject in 2005, before campus sexual assault was widely discussed. By 2012, the Center for Disease Control declared sexual violence a serious health concern for adolescents. From the trenches, we routinely hears about groping and sexual intimidation in hallways, oral rapes (in soundproof music practice rooms and unsupervised locations), rapes behind buildings during sports practice, sexual violence on school busses, rapes at school dances followed by social media postings, sexual assaults on overnight school fieldtrips, sexual assaults of boys under the guise of “hazing,” self-harm and suicide when sexual harassment and violence destroys students’ lives, and teacher on student sexual assaults. And let’s not minimize the middle school environment where predatory students hone their skills. Our daughter’s rapist had already been disciplined in eighth grade for “lewd behavior,” after found having “consensual sex” on school property during recess.

When students’ lives and educational opportunities are compromised by sexual harassment and violence, all of us (including the next generation–the survivors’ children) experience the consequences. And while we see activists dabbling in the K-12 domain, our society needs a comprehensive, multi-pronged solution to sexual violence in K-12 schools, not ineffectual consent education. The question is whether anyone cares enough to ask what’s really required. Lady Gaga, celebrities, filmmakers, lawmakers, stakeholders, and visionaries: I dare you to ask us, I dare you to join us!

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Women’s eNews interviews SSAIS co-founder

rapeaffectsallofus
University of La Verne professor of journalism Elizabeth Zwerling interviewed SSAIS co-founder Esther Warkov for an article titled Lawmakers Shift Campus Rape Conversation to High Schools. It appeared in the December 7 edition of Women’s eNews.

From the article:

Warkov said that even as legislators and educators begin to address sexual assault prevention, it is critical for students and their parents to educate themselves and to know their rights under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, including sexual harassment and sexual assault.

SSAIS First Ten Days Make Immediate Impact

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools launched its website on September 28th. Within 24 hours a grandmother contacted SSAIS seeking help after her school district showed deliberate indifference to reports of sexual assault upon her 5 year-old granddaughter. A Title IX complaint is now in the works.

HuffpostNext, The Huffington Post featured our activism history and unique website. Organizations quickly added links to the SSAIS resource on their websites, among them the Title IX blog (Prof. Erin Buzuvis), Culture of Respect, EROC, UnSlut Project, and the IHH film. The ACLU of WA posted our work as did education activists in Seattle, where the school district’s inappropriate response to a reported rape led to the formation of SSAIS.

Ten days after our launch, the National Women’s Law Center Senior Vice President for Program, Fatima Goss Graves wrote a powerful blog created for SSAIS, “Beyond the Campus: Protecting All Students From Sexual Assault,” in which she concluded:

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.

In just 10 days, the national media recognition and immediate support from organizations, Title IX experts, and allied organizations, such as Culture of Respect, EROC, and others, reveals a far-reaching validation of the SSAIS mission.

SSAIS Version 1.0 Urgently Needed

From the Executive Director of SSAIS, Esther Warkov, Ph.D

Today’s launch of the SSAIS website is the result of one family’s prolonged nightmare amidst the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in schools. Three years have passed since the school field trip rape, but it never “went away.”  Six months ago we formed SSAIS non-profit after bringing a U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights investigation to the Seattle School District. We share our experience with families who are still innocent, as we once were, when our school district tragically failed us. Because families and schools across the nation urgently need this website, we present Version 1.0, perfect or not! App not yet!

Now what? Should this website sit as a stagnant collection of information–or are you ready to use its tools, ready to build change before more lives are compromised?

If you care about students, if you like what you see here, then help us fulfill the mission to educate every student and school about students’ right to an education free from sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender-based discrimination.

Donate your skills, a little time, a little financial support–to do your part!

Check out our Get Involved page—whatever your age. Let’s go!

And students: you have every reason to get involved! You know what happens when sexual harassment and assault strikes. Put your phones to work in service of your friends, your own safety, our society, and do your part. If two old people (!) can bring a federal investigation to a school district and attract the support of youth and families nationwide, just imagine what YOU can do! Become empowered and enjoy the inevitable success!

If not now, when?

Feature Story on SSAIS in Univ. of Washington Daily

univwashdailyThis feature story in the University of Washington Daily discusses our work in educating the Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle community about Title IX and sexual harassment/assault in schools. Our education and activism is beginning to bear fruit in Seattle and other communities nationwide. We recently assisted a family bring a Title IX investigation to the Angelton, TX, school district, after their daughter’s civil rights were violated. See our activism toolkit for families.

Survey: Survivors Don’t Report Assault, Say They Won’t Be Believed

UMsurveyAnother piece of evidence confirming that sexual assault in schools is grossly underreported. This college survey found that fully one-third of respondents said they did not report the assault because they believed nothing would be done. Our trainings will emphasize that under Title IX, schools must investigate reported sexual assault and prevent retaliation against those who come forward.

Thank You, Lady Gaga

ladygagatilithappenstoyou

Thank you Lady Gaga and Paul Blavin for “Till it Happens to You,” a wrenching portrait of sexual assault that drives home the point we make: families can’t imagine that this nightmare could visit their K-12 student. It can, it did to us, and countless others. Lady Gaga makes the point that support for survivors is essential. Yet schools downplay, deny, distort, devalue, and treat with disdain the very students they should be supporting. Their report card is actually straight Fs. [trigger warning]

Sexual Victimization before College Increases Risk of Rape for College Freshmen

precollegesexvictimizationThis CS Monitor article reports on a study released Wednesday about the prevalence of rape among first-year college women. The study points to the degree to which sexual victimization before college increases the likelihood of being raped in college. This research bolsters “a growing chorus of advocates who say students at much younger ages need to start learning about forging healthy relationships and standing up to cultural norms that perpetuate rape.”

Student Can Sue District in Rape Bait Case

alabamarapebaitcaseAn appeals court overturned the ruling of a lower court in this shocking case, allowing the victim to pursue a Title IX suit against an Alabama school district. In their decision, the appeals court judges wrote: “A person in [the victim’s] position could have no confidence in a school system that orchestrates a rape-bait scheme and whose disciplinary file describes [the assailant’s] rape of her as ‘[i]nappropriate touching a female in a boys’ bathroom.”