The Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP) is a non-profit organization that strives to unite agencies engaged in the elimination of sexual violence. WCSAP provides information, training and expertise to program and individual members who support victims, family and friends, the general public, and all those whose lives have been affected by sexual assault. WCSAP is committed to providing equal access to services to all program participants and to treat individuals with fairness, dignity, and respect.
On behalf of sexual assault service providers and survivors in Washington State, we submit the following comments in objection to The Department of Education’s proposed guidance on Title IX. WCSAP finds secretary Betsy DeVos' guideline changes to Title IX to be extremely harmful to survivors of sexual violence and exacerbate already existing problems and barriers.
- DeVos proposed that the level of proof be raised in sexual assault investigations. This places additional barriers on survivors to come forward and be questioned about their traumatic experience, potentially by their abuser. Further, preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate civil standard to use in campus conduct cases; it is the only standard that treats all students with fundamental fairness.1
- Because of the proposed limited definition of sexual harassment, survivors will have to endure severe, repeated, or escalating harassment before they can file a Title IX complaint. OCR’s 2001 Guidance on Title IX outlines that “a single or isolated incident of sexual harassment may create a hostile environment if the incident is sufficiently severe.”2 Not only does this proposal decrease reporting opportunities for students facing harassment, it reinforces dangerous myths and internalized narratives that a sexual assault / incident of harassment is not "legitimate” or not bad enough.
- Increased levels of proof and cross-examination creates, not only additional barriers to reporting, but reinforces existing narratives survivors hold: survivors often don’t report their sexual assaults because of fear of being disbelieved or their assault not taken seriously.3 In addition, sexual violence is a life-altering trauma and a serious violation. This is compounded further by survivors’ frequent experience of “secondary victimization” as a result of interacting with community services providers who often partake in “victim-blaming attitudes, behaviors, and practices.”4 The practice of cross-examination can be re-traumatizing to survivors. It is often rooted in gender stereotypes and rape myths that contribute to a “victim-blaming” narrative.5 As institutions, we should do all we can to lessen the impact of the traumatization of survivors through adjudication processes through trauma-informed guidance.
- The proposed rule will only assign responsibility to schools to investigate assaults that occur on campus. This is incredibly problematic and dangerous because eighty-seven percent of college students live off-campus. Also, of particular concern, in the 2010-11 school year, 36% of girls, 24% of boys, and 30% of all students in grades 7-12 experienced sexual harassment online.6
In sum, the Department of Education guidelines would do further harm to survivors in a rape culture where they are already met with disbelief by people in their inner circles, find little support in institutions, and blamed (directly and indirectly) for their own victimization. The guidelines would further isolate survivors and protect those who abuse them. Ironically, this very law that addresses sexual harassment, sexual violence, or any gender-based discrimination, is being stripped away to provide institutional and political backing for those who commit sexual harm.
- Loschiavo, C. & Waller, J. L. Association for Student Conduct Administration. The Preponderance of Evidence Standard: Use In Higher Education Campus Conduct Processes. Retrieved from: http://www.theasca.org/files/The%20Preponderance%20of%20Evidence%20Stan…
- The United States Department of Education. Dear Colleague Letter. 2011. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html
- Holland, K. J. & Cortina, L. M. (2017a). “It happens to girls all the time”: Examining sexual assault survivors’ reasons for not using campus supports. American Journal of Community Psychology, 59(1), 50-64.
- Campbell, R. “What really happened? A validation study of rape survivors’ help-seeking experiences with the legal and medical systems.” Violence and Victims. Vol. 20, Number 1. 2005.
- Zydervelt, S.,Zajac, R., Kaladelfos, A. and Westera, N. (2016). Lawyers’ Strategies for Cross-Examining Rape Complainants: Have we Moved Beyond the 1950s? British Journal of Criminology, 57(3), 551–569.
- Hill, C. “Crossing the line: sexual harassment at school.” American Association of University Women. Retrieved from: https://www.aauw.org/research/crossing-the-line/