Students and survivors across the nation are taking to the streets to demand action on campus sexual violence and an end to their schools’ mishandling of survivors’ complaints. As students reach the end of another year’s “red zone”—the period of time between students stepping on campus and Thanksgiving break, during which about 50 percent of all sexual assaults occur—this surge of protests is not surprising.
Despite high rates of sexual assault, schools continue to fail to take meaningful action to ensure their students don’t become victims of campus sexual or dating violence. One reason for these failures is former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Title IX regulation, which makes it easier for schools to ignore survivors’ complaints and sweep sexual assault under the rug. Back in May 2020, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden vowed to bring a “quick end” to the DeVos Title IX rule that, as he acknowledged, attempts to “shame and silence survivors.” Overhauling Title IX and restoring protections to student survivors was a key part of the Biden campaign’s “plan to end violence against women.”
While these statements back then were encouraging, President Biden’s strong denouncement of the DeVos Title IX rule stands in stark contrast to the inaction of his administration’s Department of Education. The department has announced it doesn’t plan to even begin to undo this regulation until next May; if it uses a timeline similar to its predecessor’s, a final rule would not be issued until February 2024.
This is unacceptable. Survivors can’t wait any longer.
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After ten months of inaction, Know Your IX organizers and other advocates delivered a petition with over 55,000 signatures demanding that the Department of Education take immediate action to keep survivors safe and provide them with the resources they need in the wake of violence by ensuring a new regulation by the 2022 school year. After survivors’ shared our stories to articulate the current crisis in schools across the country—a crisis that the department has the power to fix—the administration officials offered us empty promises and praised us for our bravery. But survivors don’t need accolades. We need policy change—and we need it now.
Although sexual violence on campus is an age-old issue, this year is unlike any other. The first three months of college are always especially dangerous for freshman and transfer students—because those students are often inexperienced with college life, are new to party culture, and lack established social circles that can help keep them safe. However, experts believe that because many sophomores stepped onto campuses for the first time this fall due to the pandemic, they are socially experiencing college as freshmen do. That means that the population most at risk of violence on campus doubled this fall, creating what some experts have deemed the “double red zone.”
Thanks to DeVos’ changes to Title IX, students aren’t just more likely to be victimized; they are unlikely to receive the support and resources they need to stay in school in the wake of violence. That’s because DeVos’ regulations require survivors to undergo procedures that are more burdensome than those used in other student or staff misconduct investigations. And if a survivor doesn’t tell the “right person,” the school doesn’t have to do anything. The regulation only requires schools to respond to violence that occurs within a university program or activity—meaning if a student is assaulted at the unmarked off-campus fraternity house, their school isn’t required to take action under Title IX. In short, schools only have to do the absolute bare minimum to avoid being found in violation of Title IX.
But schools have been failing to protect their students and to support survivors for years. In our survey of more than 100 students who reported sexual violence to their school, Know Your IX found that nearly 40 percent experienced severe educational disruptions. Survivors are taking leaves of absences, transferring, and dropping out because the very law that is supposed to require schools take action has been altered to allow them to abdicate that responsibility.
Schools’ failings have long-term impacts on survivors’ mental health and financial security. Thirty-four percent of college student survivors experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and 33 percent experience depression. Additionally, survivors face burdensome financial costs. If survivors withdraw from classes and fall below full-time enrollment, they often need to begin paying back their loans, which is difficult for individuals without a degree and dealing with trauma. Survivors who drop out of school completely not only lose their tuition costs, but also see negative impacts on their long-term earning potential. In fact, research suggests rape-related PTSD may be associated with lower employment rates and lower earnings.
That’s why survivors are demanding that the Department of Education start creating a new Title IX rule before the end of this year, stop enforcing the dangerous DeVos Title IX rule, and allow survivors to report instances of sexual misconduct from the most recent—not the first—violation. Our lives and our educations are on the line, and we can’t wait any longer.
Our coalition of organizers left our meeting with the Department of Education feeling disappointment, anger, and deep sadness. Despite this range of emotions, we walked out of the meeting ready to fight even harder for the rights that survivors deserve. But we can’t do it alone. If you are a student, student survivor, or recent graduate, join our national student coalition, Students Taking Action for Survivors’ Rights, to demand the Department of Education act now.