Title IX changing how campuses handle sexual assaults

Title IX — the law under which universities investigate campus assaults — once again is forcing American colleges to make historic changes.

The law, which was part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, was passed to bring gender equity to education changed college sports forever.

Now, Title IX is breaking new legal ground and forcing colleges to overhaul how they handle sexual assaults. It’s believed one in five women are sexually assaulted while attending college, according to a White House report released in April.

The reason for change, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, is that if female students can’t feel safe from their male colleagues on campus, then they are at a disadvantage for learning. It is difficult to study in a hostile environment.

“Being in the presence of your assailant is disruptive to the educational opportunity,” said F. Daniel Carter, one of the country’s leading advocates for tougher action against campus crimes. “That is the legal basis — the institution has the ability to eliminate the hostile environment.”

Sexual assaults, especially when the victim and the accused know each other, often are complex and the facts cloudy, mostly because the case becomes one of “he said, she said,” according to Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative for the VTV Family Outreach Foundation.

Carter said victims — not unlike the KU student whose case has caused a campus uproar– often banter or carry on with their assailant while trying to maintain some stability even as they are going through emotional upheaval.

“That is commonplace in these cases, and they may be masking their feelings for social purposes,” said Carter who is helping write congressional bills that address sexual assault on campuses. “The victim doesn’t recognize what transpired either out of ignorance or an attempt to maintain social status and the relationship.”

But it also makes criminal prosecution difficult and can confuse a jury. That’s where colleges have the ability to effect change, he said.

Carter said the rules about sexual assault are becoming even more strict, and he and others are advocating for expulsion in these cases. That’s because on a campus, despite all precautions, a victim is likely to run into her assailant.

“It can be incredibly disruptive to the survivor’s educational experience,” Carter said. “They have a legal right to enjoy the education afforded them by the institution. The other student has less rights if they were provided due process” and found to be in the wrong.

Special report: Sexual violence on campus

More stories from the Journal-World’s Sept. 14, 2014, focus on an alleged rape of a woman in a KU residence hall and the issue of sexual assault here and on campuses nationwide.

KU, prosecutors face challenges in rape investigations

Colleges nationwide dealing with sexual violence investigations, complications

Alcohol and sex can create a dangerous mix on campus

Title IX changing how campuses handle sexual assaults

Correction: Title IX’s origins were incorrectly described in a previous version of this story.