Department of Education Provides Guidance to Schools and Colleges on Handling Sexual Violence

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has issued a new guidance letter to schools and colleges to clarify Title IX requirements pertaining to sexual violence and harassment allegations.

Under Title IX, schools that receive federal funding are prohibited from engaging in sex discrimination, which includes sexual harassment and violence. The letter provides a clear and detailed overview of how sexual assault is protected under existing Title IX requirements and provides guidance for how schools and colleges should respond to sexual assault complaints.

The letter outlines a three-step procedure that consists of distributing nondiscrimination notices to all students and employees on school campuses; establishing a Title IX coordinator to oversee all complaints and response procedures; and implementing effective grievance procedures. The letter also provides examples of steps that schools should take when handling a complaint and the appropriate standard of proof in the investigation of alleged assault.

Civil rights groups say that the Obama administration’s proactive position is crucial in handling sexual violence on school campuses. A report prepared for the National Institute of Justice found that about one in five women are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault while in college.

This is the first time that federal guidelines addressing sexual violence have been compiled into one comprehensive document. Civil and human rights organizations commended the department on its effort to combat sexual assault and harassment on school campuses. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) praised the guidelines’ specific emphasis on prevention and appropriate remedies and procedures.

“Sexual violence is a serious problem for women and girls,” said National Women’s Law Center Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger. “In too many instances, college and school officials have failed to protect their students from sexual harassment, including sexual violence. This Department of Education guidance is critically important because it reminds schools of their obligation under Title IX to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and to promptly and effectively address it when it occurs.”