With women representing 60 percent of college students, Title IX has shifted focus toward sexual harrasment and assault. In a 2019 survey from the Association of American Universities, one in four cis female undergraduates said they were sexually harassed. The ratio was more than one in five for TGQN (trans, grenderqueer, noncomforming) students and one in twenty for cis men. The recent National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) report noted that, “Some lower courts have even held that schools cannot be held liable for their deliberately indifferent responses to a student’s report of sexual harrasment or assult unless the student is sexually harrassed or assaulted again after their report to their school, effectively creating a ‘one free rape rule.’”
Students seldom report their experiences, due in part because of fear that they will not be disbelieved or punished. The reporting process became less accessible after changes made by the Trump administration.
Case investigations, which previously had to be completed within six months, can now remain open indefinitely. They can be waived entirely “if the harassment described in the complaint is not severe and pervasive,” the NCWGE reported. Schools can address complaints through mediation rather than formal punishment, including sport suspensions. It also requires live hearings with cross-examinations by advisors, which may discourage students who want to remain anonymous from reporting. Students who experience sexual assalt are disproportionately likely to drop out of college, emphasizing the need for prevention and reporting resources.
The NCWGE recommends Title IX expand to ensure that student survivors do not experience more severe punishment than perpetrators. It also suggests that schools that violate anti-sexual assault laws be subject to increased civil penalties.
On June 23, the Department of Education announced a proposal to reverse restrictions made by the previous administration. The plan would expand Title IX protections for sexual harrasment, improve the reporting process, and increase transparency between students and their schools’ nondiscrimination policies.