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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Sexual harassment rules fall short on campus, prompting overhaul call

Mission, Cannes. ( Associated Press) — Carla Arango says sexual assault in a dorm room began as word spread on campus. Whispering about her in the cafeteria, blocking her phone number and unfriending her on social media. Soon his grades were slipping.

Arango’s experience in his first year at Northern Kentucky University highlights what experts see as deeper problems with Title IX, a 1972 federal civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. It turns 50 this month.

Declared as a gamechanger for female college athletes, the law is also supposed to protect those accused of sexual assault and harassment, such as Arango, from relocating to dorms or even killing their attackers. There are options like dropping out of school.

In practice, the protection of the law falls short, say accusers and advocates.

Polarization rules passed under former President Donald Trump have discouraged students from coming forward with allegations of misconduct. who face live hearing and cross-examination by a person of their alleged attacker’s choice. The rules also narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and allowed colleges to ignore most cases arising out of campus.

President Joe Biden and other critics say the rules, finalized in 2020 by then-education secretary Betsy DeVos, fail to adequately protect sexual assault victims, bar them from reporting misconduct and protect the accused. I go too far. Biden is expected to announce new rules Just like this month.

Meanwhile, many students have opted out altogether, never reporting the abuse. Or they have chosen an informal route, in which accusers may be asked not to take classes with the accuser, or to switch schools – often with no trace on their record.

Arango eventually decided not to pursue his case, and nothing happened to the other student.

“I felt like my identity was starting to form, and then it was completely taken away,” said Arango, who is now 21 and heading into his senior year. “Everyone just saw me as this girl who was lying about being sexually assaulted. And I was spiraling really badly. ,

The Associated Press does not usually identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted, but Arango gave permission for their names to be used. She serves on a national advocacy group, Survivors for End Rape on Campus.

Sexual harassment is common on college campuses. Overall, 13 percent of college students and about 26% of undergraduate women reported non-consensual sexual contact, according to a 2019 Association of American Universities survey of 181,752 students across 27 campuses. Rates were almost as high for students who were transgender, non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming.

According to the survey, only a third of female accusers reported what had happened. Doing so often ends badly, according to Know Your IX, an advocacy group that has found students who report abuse often drop out of school, at least temporarily, and threaten defamation lawsuits. Is given.

“The current process isn’t really working for anyone,” said Know Your IX manager Emma Grasso Levine.

According to records provided to the Associated Press, some universities have followed Trump administration rules with a reduction in the number of complaints addressed by Title IX offices.

At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, there were 204 Title IX complaints filed in 2019, but just 12 in 2021, the records show. The number of cases meeting the criteria for formal investigation fell from 27 to zero in the same period. No student has been found responsible for Title IX violations at the university since 2020.

At Michigan State University, the number of Title IX complaints increased from more than 1,300 in 2019 to 56 in 2021. School officials say the fall is a result of narrower definitions in the 2020 rules. Officials said complaints that fall outside the purview of federal rules now go through a similar but different disciplinary system.

Arango’s nightmare began in August 2019, when she fainted after playing a drinking game with her new fraternity friends.

She remembers waking up on an air mattress, with a male student on top of her, though she had given no consent to sex. She grabbed her luggage and went to class, as if nothing had happened.

She remained silent until that October, when she told a fraternity friend but swore to her secrecy.

A few days later, she received an email from the Title IX office saying that her name had been included in a sexual assault misconduct report. His friend had shared his secret with the president of the fraternity, who was a resident advisor and was required to report it.

The accused student soon got to know. His fraternal brothers shunned him because his weight was up to the IX check or not. People were calling him a liar, he said.

Arango asked Title IX officials whether the other student would be suspended or sanctioned if a formal complaint was filed. The coordinator told her the process was lengthy and that if nothing else, she might get a no-contact order.

She was skipping two classes to escape the student and her friends, on track to get the first two Cs of her life – grades that could threaten her scholarship. Then there was separation. “The thing is, no one is talking to me anymore,” she felt.

He stalled the investigation process. By the time he saw it again in the spring, the pandemic was slowing everything down. Then the new rules for DeVos were announced.

Attorney Russell Kornblith uses the word “Byzantine” to describe them. He is representing three Harvard University graduate students in a lawsuit Alleged that the Ivy League school ignored complaints of sexual harassment by a renowned professor for years.

He added that it can take a long time to proceed with matters, which diverts the students’ attention from their classwork. Income inequalities often surfaced, with affluent students able to pay for lawyers and others represented only by themselves. In some cases, the accusers find themselves inquiring about their sexual past.

A process that already seemed rough, turned out to be overwhelming for Arango.

“I just saw the word ‘cross-examination’ and was terrified,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘I can’t. I can’t put myself through this.'”

As more complaints roll out of its purview, experts have raised the alarm that colleges are increasingly adjudicating cases in parallel campus disciplinary systems that do not guarantee accusers the same rights as Title IX.

Washington-based attorney Justin Dillon, who has defended dozens of students accused of sexual misconduct, called the cross-examination process created under DeVos a “unique success” but criticized the overall handling of sexual misconduct cases under Title IX.

“It’s this kind of sexual police state created on college campuses, which I think goes far beyond just ensuring men and women have equal access to education,” he said.

Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said students are reporting fewer sexual misconduct cases and most of them – above 90% – are now being handled informally. He said that sometimes the accused agree to move the bus so that their new school doesn’t know that something has happened.

For all the difficulties colleges have adjudicating sexual assault cases, Title IX is at least accountable for protecting the rights of accusers who might otherwise sue, said Maha Ibrahim, a staff attorney with Equal Rights Advocates. A non-profit that represents survivors.

“What if it wasn’t there? Then what?” he said. “You know, college campuses are absolutely free for all, a very dangerous place for women and queer people. And then what?”


Associated Press reporter Colin Binkley contributed from Boston.


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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