Federal Laws Protect Students Against Sexual Assault on Campus
Title IX and the Clery Act give rise to a federal investigation into colleges’ policies and procedures for handling complaints of sexual violence.
Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a three-part series on issues surrounding sexual assault reporting and the need for reform. You can read Part One here.
Sexual assault has long been a prevalent problem on college campuses. Harvard University has received approximately 100 reports of sexual assaults in the last three years, a statistic that is likely much lower than the number of actual incidents. In response to reports of mishandled complaints, President Barack Obama created the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault (“the Task Force”). On May 1, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) named 55 colleges and universities under federal investigation.
Two laws provide the framework for such an investigation: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (“Clery Act”). Together, these laws provide the federal government with jurisdiction to investigate and sanction non-complying state and private institutions.
Title IX requires schools to protect its students from gender-based crimes, such as sexual assault.
The OCR enforces Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funding. The law governs approximately 3,200 colleges and universities and 5,000 for-profit schools, as well as 16,000 local school districts and numerous museums and libraries. Its protections are vast and varied: Title IX is most frequently cited in reference to equitable pay for female teachers, as well as schools’ provisions of athletic scholarship awards.
Title IX also requires schools to protect its students from gender-based crimes, such as sexual assault. On April 4, 2011, the OCR released a “Dear Colleague” letter to schools. The letter provided guidance for responding to complaints and notified institutions of the OCR’s new, stricter enforcement of Title IX in the context of sexual assault.
Originally titled the Campus Security Act, the Clery Act was renamed in honor of a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered by a fellow student in her dormitory in 1986.
The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to release information about crime occurring on and around their campuses. Originally titled the Campus Security Act, the law was renamed in honor of Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered by a fellow student in her dormitory in 1986. In addition to its general reporting requirements, the Clery Act protects sexual assault victims and witnesses against retribution.
Notalone.gov, a website created by the Task Force, informs schools of their responsibilities(PDF) under Title IX and the Clery Act. The website details the types of incidents that must be reported, provides guidelines for maintaining victim confidentiality, and suggests best practices for developing strong policies and procedures for responding to sexual assaults occurring on campuses.
The Task Force seeks to alleviate the stigma attached to sexual assault and ultimately, to reduce campus crime.
Most importantly, notalone.gov empowers students by encouraging victims to report and informing all students of their rights under Title IX and the Clery Act. In doing so, the Task Force seeks to alleviate the stigma attached to sexual assault and ultimately, to reduce campus crime.