Law & Disorder: Despite Title IX, USC still fails its students | #Education

(Lauren Schatzman | Daily Trojan)

Content warning: The following article contains mentions of sexual assault. 

Title IX was the start of eliminating sex-based discrimination within education. As the federal civil rights law developed to ensure all students received equal opportunities on campus, its amendments expanded to cover all forms of sexual harassment and sexual violence. However, Title IX’s progress toward truly creating a safe learning environment has stagnated. To be completely honest, it has regressed. 

In August 2020, former United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos formally implemented changes to Title IX that reversed years of developing civil rights protection for students. One of the new regulations includes a “live hearing with cross-examination” requirement for post-secondary institutions, which reduces the institutions’ responsibility to investigate sexual assault off-campus, dissolves the recommended timeline for case resolution and removes anonymity for formal complaints. In summary: It is somehow even harder for victims of sexual assault to report their cases and find justice. 

DeVos made these changes to create a more “judicial-like process” and emphasize due process. However, the issue with Title IX has never been due process or false reporting. 

False allegations of sexual misconduct often receive high-profile investigations despite the low frequency of such cases. While the exact number of false reports is unknown because most sexual harassment instances are unreported, a commonly-cited study from the University of Amsterdam and Maastricht University puts the number at 1.16%. 

Yet the consequences of filing a false sexual misconduct report are still greater than the consequences of committing the crime itself. Under the California penal code for false police reports, “filing a false police report can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If convicted, an individual may serve up to 6 months in jail and/or pay a fine of up to $1,000.00.” On the other hand, a student convicted of sexual assault rarely faces criminal punishment and tends to only face suspension or expulsion. 

DeVos’ changes did not solve the nonexistent issue of false reporting or due process; they only created ambiguous legislation which places less liability and responsibility on higher education administration to take action against sexual assault and support their students. 

The new regulations leave many specifics up to each campus’ inclination. According to the USC Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX FAQ, colleges and universities can “determine how best to prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and to respond in a way that is consistent with their institutional values.”

Apparently, this policy means publishing superficial statements, delays in reporting information about cases of sexual assault and an increased burden of proof for victims. 

In a WBUR commentary on the victims’ burdens of proof, writer and Berklee College of Music professor Deborah Bennett said, “What proof can one offer up to those who have not experienced sexual assault?”  

Victims already carry the trauma of the assault and the burden of facing their abusers, only for the law to ask them to provide more evidence to prove the unprovable. 

The Title IX process was already confusing and complicated before the new regulations. I was overwhelmed looking at the USC EEO-TIX Resolution Process for sexual misconduct, with various steps to go through to make a formal complaint and obscure language. There are no specifics for the time frame of the resolution or the nature of the evidence one must present.

As much as I appreciate all the supportive measures provided to students, these University resources aren’t going to eradicate sexual assault. They just put a flimsy bandaid on the issue.

Despite the freedom Title IX gives universities to specify the process of responding to cases of sexual assault to fit the specific needs of each campus, USC doesn’t do anything with this power. Instead, it completely drops the ball on the issue and waited over a month to address sexual assault reports from back in September. USC canceled its joint town hall with Undergraduate Student Government and the Student Coalition Against Sexual Violence Tuesday, only to host a webinar that heavily focused on Pass/No Pass policies which does nothing to stop sexual violence.

If Title IX doesn’t have the specifics, USC needs to create clear and pressing policies against sexual assault and against these predators that roam our campuses: Establish a clear timeline that schools must follow, continue with the belief that one is “innocent until proven guilty,” but put the well-being of the victim first by creating an actual guideline that truly defines sexual assault and its consequences. Because right now, it feels like Title IX does nothing more than console victims while assaulters run free. Fixing Title IX is far from easy, but we cannot afford to wait any longer.

Helen Nguyen is a junior writing about law and social issues. Her column, “Law & Disorder,” usually runs every other Monday.

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