For most of us, August means winding down summer and returning to school.
Schools that receive federal funding must abide by a civil rights law known as Title IX. Under this law, when a student experiences sexual violence and notifies their school, the school is obligated to take measures to ensure that the student feels safe on campus and can fully access their education in the wake of violence. Student survivors do not have to officially report sexual violence to access accommodations like moving a test deadline or changing dorms, but some survivors choose to formally report so that the school can take action against their perpetrator. In other words, schools are bound by Title IX to help make sure sexual violence does not push a survivor out of school.
But for some, telling Title IX officers about sexual violence brings about new problems that can add to the trauma of being assaulted. Slipping grades, fear of leaving a dorm room, or needing to transfer schools are all examples of what may happen to a survivor of sexual assault in a school setting.
A study done by Know Your IX (a youth advocacy group) found that 39% of sexual assault victims in college or university were forced to take a leave of absence from school, transfer to a new school, or drop out of school altogether. 35% of survivors report that their schools explicitly encourage them to take time off.
In addition to leaving school, more than 40% of survivors developed PTSD, more than one-third experienced anxiety, and more than one-quarter became depressed
Several survivors have explained that their PTSD, anxiety, or depression diagnosis were linked not only to the violence, but also to their schools’ responses to that violence. The shame that is sometimes placed upon an individual for reporting a crime (especially if the perpetrator is “well-liked” or heavily involved with sports or Greek Life) amounts to a large portion of the struggle with being assaulted.
In fact, 70% of survivors who reported to their school experienced adverse effects on their safety and privacy. Not only that, but 15% of survivors who reported to their schools were threatened with or faced punishment for coming forward. The most commonly reported forms were punishment for “ancillary misconduct,” the violence itself construed as the survivor’s own misconduct and speaking out.
For example, one survivor that participated in the Know Your IX study said that their school was more concerned with the fake ID they had used that night than the fact that they had been raped. Another survivor said that her school refused to protect her from being inappropriately touched during class – and she was punished for fighting back.
Survivors who report to their schools are also afraid of cross-filing. More than 1 in 5 survivors are threatened with a defamation suit for coming forward.
When schools prioritize the view of the perpetrator rather than the victim, it creates a distrust within the entire system. Title IX is in place to protect students and we should be motivating schools to follow through with these laws and believe survivors.
Right now, the cost of reporting is high for student survivors – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Schools can take meaningful action to ensure that no student is denied equal access to education because of sexual violence and discrimination.
Mental health access on schools, academic accommodations, fair discipline processes, and finding ways to limit perpetrator backlash are all ways we can begin to improve our response to victims in schools.
The cost of an education should never include sexual violence.
At Options, we have staff members who will help you in the reporting process if you have experienced sexual assault. Reporting to Title IX can be a daunting task, but we are here to make sure that you get the representation and accommodations that you deserve. Advocates are here to help you.
If you need any additional information, have a question, or a concern, feel free to reach out to Options at our 24-hour toll free helpline 800-794-4624. You can also reach us via text by texting HOPE to 847411 or click Chat with an Advocate.
Written by Anniston Weber