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

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

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education. In fact, the language of Title IX reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Unfortunately, even with Office for Civil Rights (OCR) guidance particularly tailored to K – 12 schools, schools receiving federal financial assistance are inadequately addressing their Title IX obligations. What we need to do is better understand the problem and start working to change the climate and help Title IX be upheld in all of our schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] See:

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

[4] See:

[5] See:

[6] Robert Kolker “Out of Bounds” New York Magazine, accessed at:

[7] See:

[8] Adam Clark, Rutgers Report: ‘Sexual violence starts before college; Sept. 3 2015, accessed at:

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