A Simple Intervention From the U.S. Secretary Of Education Could Help Millions Of Survivors Of Sexual Violence


On July 1, ED Act Now, a network of campus sexual assault survivors and advocates sent out a press release calling on U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to stand with them against campus violence. ED Act Now (Department of Education Act Now) plans to bring survivors and advocates together on Monday at 11:00 a.m. outside of the Department of Education to deliver the petition they started on Change.org. They are petitioning for nothing more than the enforcement of Title IX.

Passed by Congress in 1972, Title IX is, according to the United States Department of Justice, “a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.” The Department of Justice qualifies this by adding, “The principal objective of Title IX is to avoid the use of federal funding to support sex discrimination in education programs to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices.” The practices of sex discrimination include not reporting instances of sexual violence, encouraging victims of sexual violence to not report it, and not taking the proper measures to combat sexual violence from occurring again.

One of the organizers behind the ED Act Now petition, Alexandra Brodsky, a Yale College alumna and a member of the Yale Law class of 2016, said in an email interview, "Survivors and allies across the country are demanding change on their campuses. Over the past few months, an unprecedented number of students have filed federal complains with the Department of Education against their schools.”

Brodsky is correct in her statement that more and more students are filing federal complaints against their schools. A Google search on ‘College Student Title IX federal complaints’ yields results across the nation of students rising up to demand that schools properly handle sexual violence and sexual assault on their campuses. Articles on this topic are covered by the Dartmouth, Bloomberg, Inside Higher Ed, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and the New York Times, to name only a few, and this only scrapes the surface. It is clear that students want Title IX enforcement from the Department of Education.

While the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has conducted investigations of student complaints on violations of Title IX at Yale, Tufts, the University of Wisconsin, Harvard, Georgetown, and a number of additional colleges there have been no formal sanctions against the schools. The OCR, which is given the task of enforcing Title IX, can impose a wide variety of sanctions on colleges violating Title IX. However, the OCR concludes investigations with “voluntary resolution agreements,” which are essentially promises from schools that they will enforce Title IX better in the future.

As Brodsky noted, “Currently the Office of Civil Rights concludes almost all investigations with voluntary resolution agreements rather than official findings of non-compliance or referrals to the DOJ.”

“We know from our own and our allies’ experiences that these promises are often empty and the same abuses that sparked the complaints continue. The OCR often drags out these complaints for years, at which point involved students have graduated and the school gets off the hook,” she said. 

The battle for enforcement of Title IX will certainly continue by ED Act Now and college students all over the United States. Continuing to allow colleges to violate Title IX is not only telling victims that the injustices that they have suffered are not of great importance, but also empowers and encourages a culture of silencing the victims.

Brodsky boldly called for people to join the fight for equality in education, saying, “It is important to note what a cross-cutting issue this is. Sexual violence is often thought of as just an issue of gender and sexuality, which of course it is, but Title IX is fundamentally about access to education — and that’s an issue of class, of race, and of American inequality.”