Title IX states, “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.” Essentially, it prevents sexual discrimination at any educational institution receiving Federal financial assistance— this includes all public and most private schools and colleges. This law also encompasses sexual harassment in educational settings.
Recent revisions to Title IX brought about by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, seem to favor those accused of sexual harassment. The entire definition of sexual harassment has been narrowed down to an extent where the accused may not face any consequences. The changes also include the presumption of innocence, the ability to view all evidence collected against the defendant, and the right to cross-examine the accuser. Though this policy may prevent the defamation of those wrongfully accused, it may increase mental health issues for survivors, lead to rises in unreported sexual harassment, and leave potentially harmful people on school and college campuses.
Increased Mental Health Issues For Survivors
The new definition of harassment: what was previously defined as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” is now unwelcome conduct that is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it “denies equal access to the school’s education program or activity.” This effectively expands the realm of unwelcome conduct that is “acceptable.” Though these actions may not warrant disciplinary action, they can still cause mental and/or physical harm. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), this will lead to institutions ignoring victims if “they haven’t suffered enough by DeVos’ standard.” Essentially, people will have the freedom to commit unwelcome sexual acts with no consequences; this could impose a large toll on a survivor’s mental health.
The new modifications also allow for the cross-examination of the victim. Sexual harassment is generally a difficult topic to accept and to speak up about. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, some reasons why teens do not disclose their sexual assault experiences include emotional pain, shame, fear of being blamed, and fear of not being believed. Cross-examination will force victims to relive their assault and can cause severe mental and emotional stress. “Child sexual assault trial has been described as a ‘legally sanctioned’ forum in which children can be emotionally traumatised by the unregulated behaviour of defence counsel” (Cossins, 2009). The fears of being blamed and not believed are worsened through cross-examination, as the victim will be questioned repeatedly and possibly blamed for their own assault. In the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault trial, Annabella Sciorra was interrogated and questioned pervasively about her actions from 20 years ago. The trial was suspended after another accuser was unable to proceed during her cross-examination due to her emotional response. Overall, the changes to Title IX can severely harm a survivor’s mental health.
Rises In Unreported Sexual Harassment
The mental and emotional effects of cross-examination can be damaging to the point where survivors may choose not to speak up. According to a Forbes article, “it’s not shocking that many sexual assault victims choose not to report the crime in order to avoid this traumatic process altogether.” Essentially, the process of cross-examining sexual assault victims, and particularly those in schools and colleges, will result in mental trauma to those who do speak up and repress others who want to refrain from participating in this harrowing process. Additionally, the now narrow definition of sexual harassment can discourage people from reporting their experiences, as there are lower chances of receiving justice.
Leaving Potentially Harmful People On Campuses
As explained above, reports of sexual harassment will decrease as a result of the Title IX revision. This means that students who have committed an offense can continue to do so. Additionally, even for reported cases, very few will end with permanent expulsion from the school, allowing the accused to stay on campus and potentially harass others. As it is, only 9 out of 1000 sexual assault cases are prosecuted according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Betsy DeVos’ alterations will allow accused students to stay on campus and potentially continue sexually harassing others with no consequences.
Allegations of sexual assault often result in the defamation of the person accused, and in the case of false allegations, this is problematic as an innocent person may face severe societal consequences. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, false allegations make up 2-10% of reports. However, there is a large caveat to this range: “the rate of false allegations tends to be inflated and why many inaccurately believe false reports are commonplace.” Some police departments consider delayed reporting, insufficient evidence to prosecute, a victim’s decision to not cooperate with investigators, and inconsistencies in a victim’s statements as a “false” allegation. Rather than shaping the system to benefit those accused to prevent defamation, people should be educated as to why false allegations are dangerous to society and unethical. Creating a system where the accused are protected will indefinitely lead to higher rates of unreported and unprosecuted cases of sexual assault.
The Overall Effect
This policy clearly benefits those accused of sexual assault and increases the difficulty in prosecuting the accused. This may help universities and schools reduce the cost of handling sexual assault issues as these reforms mean fewer cases will be reported, and even fewer will “qualify” as sexual harassment under the new Title IX. According to RAINN, only 230 out of 1000 sexual assault cases are reported. This policy has the potential to create even greater mental and emotional stresses for survivors of sexual assault. Reducing the cost for educational institutions and protecting the accused from false allegations (as this makes up an extremely small number of cases) should not be prioritized over the welfare of most students.
Eighteen states and Washington D.C., as well as the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), have sued Betsy DeVos for her consequential alterations to Title IX. The NWLC is accepting donations; donating can help fund the fight against the Title IX revision and other causes the NWLC is working towards. If your state has not yet sued Betsy DeVos or taken any actions against these changes, calling your senator or other elected government officials and expressing your concern can help combat this issue.