White House targets sexual assault on campus
The Obama administration announced Monday a new directive outlining schools' responsibilities when students bring complaints of sexual assault or sexual harassment on campus.
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For the first time, the federal government has issued guidance to schools under the umbrella of Title IX – the law normally associated with gender equity in sports – on how to address issues of sexual assault. According to a 2007 survey financed by the Justice Department, 1 in 5 undergraduate women are victims of attempted or actual sexual assault, as 1 in 16 undergraduate men.
“Students across the country deserve the safest possible environment in which to learn,” said Vice President Biden in a speech Monday at the University of New Hampshire, where he spoke passionately about the broader problems of violence against women and on-campus violence. “That's why we’re taking new steps to help our nation’s schools, universities and colleges end the cycle of sexual violence on campus.”
The Department sent schools a letter including reminders that:
- Title IX protects students from all sexual harassment.
- Schools need to have clear systems in place for grievances – and make sure students are aware of them.
- A criminal investigation does not relieve the school of its own need to investigate any complaint, and schools must investigate complaints promptly, rather than waiting for the conclusion of a criminal investigation, as some have done in the past.
- In evaluating cases, schools must use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof in meting out punishment – the standard used in civil lawsuits – as in, was it "more likely than not" that sexual violence occurred? Currently, some schools use the stronger “clear and convincing” standard generally used by the criminal courts.
- All students who bring forward complaints must be informed that they have the right to an investigation. Schools must furthermore tell the complaining student the outcome of the investigation. In the past, some schools worried that this would violate the alleged perpetrator’s privacy rights.
- At any hearing during the school’s Title IX investigation, all parties must have equal opportunity to present evidence and witnesses.