Sexual Assault Awareness Month is observed every April to raise awareness about sexual assault and educate the public on its prevention. It has become more widely recognized year-on-year but has had special resonance in recent years, given the back and forth over the difficult issue of how colleges should handle sexual assault on campus.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time to acknowledge the many experiences people have had with sexual assault. It encourages discussion about how we might best work as a community to protect against sexual violence. Part of this, of course, is how institutions and communities respond to reports of sexual assault. The issue of sexual assault is never more fraught and complex than when young people are involved. Parents entrust schools and colleges with their children's safety. Even when no longer minors, college students are vulnerable and ill-equipped to handle the repercussions of sexual assault.
For decades Title IX has governed all forms of sex-based discrimination in schools and colleges, including harassment and assault. Title IX is a federal law that has been in place and unchanged since 1972. However, the guidance on how to implement it, and guard against the sexual harassment it prohibits, can change. The federal government has the power to change these guidelines as to how Title IX is enforced in schools, and those changes will then apply nationwide.
Sweeping changes came under the Obama and Trump administrations and look to change once again.
The U.S. Department of Education, under Betsy DeVos, released the current guidance in May 2020, which then went into effect in August that year. This guidance marked a change from what came before. Guidance implemented under the Obama administration had expanded the remit of Title IX and put in protections for sexual assault victims. This chimed with the politics of many institutions and proved popular with schools. However, critics argue that it swung the pendulum too far the other way by restricting their rights and due process. DeVos' regulations later reinstated a number of rights for the accused, including the right to cross-examine witnesses and their accusers.
The unprecedented disruption of the coronavirus pandemic meant many schools had to rush through changes to their Title IX policies despite closures. Many have even implemented dual systems, maintaining Title IX rules where legally required, while absorbing aspects of the previous more victim-focussed approach. Many of these new policies are as yet completely untested. College students now find themselves at a strange point in the history of campus sexual assault policies.
This Sexual Assault Awareness Month should be a time of reflection. It must be alarming for young people that policies in place to protect them from both sexual assault and false accusations are subject to the vicissitudes of season and politics, but this serves to highlight further the urgent importance of education about these issues.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Attorney
Joseph D. Lento has fought for student rights all over the country, helping students falsely accused of sexual misconduct prove their innocence and move on with their lives. He has seen first-hand how school Title IX policies have shifted and is the expert you need to navigate college proceedings. Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686.