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Sexual Assault and Applications of Title IX

The Sexual Respect Initiative runs through October which is Relationship Violence Awareness Month, so it’s important we cover sexual assault. We’ve gone a long way since the 90s where there wasn’t a unified definition of sexual assault across the University. Yes, I know, this is absolutely bizarre, but it speaks to what was many times an insufficient system of addressing sexual assault during the same time period where America got tough on “super-predators” and drug crime. This has started to change in this new millennium, and one of the forefronts of that change has been on college campuses.

In April of 2011, the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education (OCR) released a guidance letter which stated that “sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX” and importantly that, “Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” This is critical because schools found to be in violation of Title IX are at risk of losing federal funding, otherwise known as the Pell Grants, work-study funds, and research grants that a lot of colleges value. In response to this and increasing attention towards sexual harassment and assault in this decade, colleges have revised on-campus disciplinary proceedings to be more in line with the desires of the Obama administration, and by any indication, this doesn’t seem to be a one shot deal. The Democratic Party, in its party platform stated that they “will provide comprehensive support to survivors, and ensure a fair process for all on-campus disciplinary proceedings and in the criminal justice system.”

However, some would inquire what a “fair process” looks like. For as long as this has been an issue, the OCR has come under fire from some civil-rights advocates for using the threat of Title IX to develop processes unfair to defendants. Namely, the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education has criticized OCR’s insistence that campus proceedings be determined on a preponderance of the evidence standard, its expansive definition of sexual harassment, and in New York, the standard of affirmative consent pushed by a Democratic state government. Of five years of OCR investigations revolving around Title IX, very few have actually ruled in favor of defendants, and when they did, it was for blatantly violating written disciplinary as mandated by the OCR. Assuming Hillary Clinton’s administration would be a continuation of Obama’s, there’s no discernable reason why she would stray from the currently criticized course.

Do you have a choice on this issue? Perhaps. The Republican Platform gives us the following: “The Administration’s distortion of Title IX to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse contravenes our country’s legal traditions and must be halted before it further muddles this complex issue and prevents the proper authorities from investigating and prosecuting sexual assault effectively with due process.” This sounds like genuine concern for a lot of the issues FIRE is trying to address, but here, the messenger is compromised. This is the party, after all, of Donald Trump, who advocated in Hofstra University for the continuation of stop and frisk, a police tactic whose application was ruled unconstitutional by a judge. This is the same Donald Trump who said of bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami’s receival of legal testimony “His case will go through the various court systems for years and in the end, people will forget and his punishment will not be what it once would have been. What a sad situation. We must have speedy but fair trials and we must deliver a just and very harsh punishment to these people.” This is the same Donald Trump who refused to apologize for his behavior towards the Central Park Five, who he accused of raping a woman after authorities found the actual rapist and gave the five men settlement money. One must ask if Donald Trump is as concerned about due process on college campuses as the Republican Party Platform says it is, then why isn’t he concerned about due process anywhere else? This is on top of the release of a tape where Donald Trump bragged about using his star power to grope women, the latest in a string of anecdotes where Trump was described as a misogynistic harassment machine. Is it possible for someone who has repeated sexually harassed women to appoint people responsible for tackling it?

In summary, one can assume a vote for Hillary this November means more of the same, investigations into universities and strongly worded requests to change. One could assume a vote for Trump would be for a different course, but whether that course is towards due-process, law and order, or more of the 90s is anyone’s guess.

Ufon’s mini-series, Columbia and the 2016 Election, will run through the November 8th Presidential Elections.

The Lion is the only Columbia publication with an open-submissions policy. To respond to this piece or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

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