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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Consequences of new Title IX policies

Advocating for survivors of sexual assault

The United States Department of Education, led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, announced its intention to rescind what is known as the Dear Colleague letter on Sept. 22. This Obama administration guidance from 2011 was issued to explain colleges and universities’ responsibilities under Title IX regarding the handling of sexual misconduct. An interim Q&A document has been issued on campus sexual misconduct for colleges and universities to refer to while the Department seeks public comment before issuing new rules on the responsibilities of colleges and universities under Title IX.

DeVos, in a previous speaking appearance at George Mason University, announced her concern that the Obama era policy denies due process to those accused of sexual assault. While some guidelines remain intact, the new Q&A recommends increasing the evidence needed to sanction a student for sexual misconduct.As a result, universities still choose how to implement Title IX policies on their own, so there may not necessarily be changes in St. Joe’s Sexual Misconduct Policy for the time being. While it is important to prioritize citizens’ rights, including the right to due process, we have to consider the implications of such a statement.

The decision to rescind the Dear Colleague letter jeopardizes survivors of sexual assault. As it is, reporting for sexual misconduct is low. About 6.1 female college students aged 18-24 per every 1,000 are raped or sexually assaulted, according to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics from 1995-2013. Since many incidences of a sexual misconduct go unreported, it is difficult to estimate the true number of violations.

Within the criminal justice system, only 32.5 percent of instances of rape or sexual assault were reported to the police, according to the most recent National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2015.

After rape or sexual assault is reported, there is little reliable data estimating how many of these reports lead to arrests or convictions; however, research is increasingly showing that in the United States legal system, the small amount of reported rape cases that go to trial are difficult to prosecute and less to likely to result in convictions than other forms of crime.

Students should not have to rely on a legal process that continually fails survivors of sexual assualt. We need to offer our support for survivors of sexual assault and provide a safe environment for them to report misconduct if they wish. Making it harder to punish a student accused of sexual assault can further discourage survivors.

As St. Joe’s decides how to respond to these changes in federal policy, we ought to recognize that in light of the failure of the legal system we must do all that we can to provide justice for sexual assault survivors on our own campus.

There were nine reported rapes on-campus at St. Joe’s in 2014 according to St. Joe’s Security and Fire Safety Report as required by the Clery Act. This number decreased even further in 2015 down to two reports. A decrease in reports does not necessarily mean that there was a decrease in sexual assaults though.

While it’s important to recognize that the number of offenses did decrease over the course of one year, this number should not be taken at face-value. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves if there’s a reason so few students report a sexual misconduct, when the reality is that many violators will go unpunished.

These reports also fail to include any incidents that occur off-campus. Since many students live off-campus, it’s important that we ask for transparency about these statistics. Whether the federal government mandates that St. Joe’s reports off-campus sexual misconduct incidents or not, it is our responsibility to ensure that we support all survivors of sexual assault.

As a campus community, we must be equipped to be allies and to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. In order to do so, we have to know what resources are available to student survivors of sexual assault.

Although these policies are outlined in the St. Joe’s student handbook, many students neglect to read either handbook or the Sexual Misconduct Policy and are not aware of the procedures for handling a sexual misconduct violation. By failing to inform ourselves, we are unconsciously disrespecting survivors of sexual assault. If one of our fellow community members needs support after a misconduct occurs, we need to be prepared and knowledgeable allies. It is imperative that we take advantage of the resources at our disposal to better be able to stand with and for others.

St. Joe’s also holds the responsibility to make its policies more accessible. A 52-page Sexual Misconduct Policy guide can seem intimidating, so it’s important the university dedicates time and resources to further simplify the process for students. Students receive pocket guides about the policy, but the reporting process is rarely talked about on campus.

Although we have a variety of resources on campus to assist victims in need of support and a safe environment, there’s still a stigma around sexual misconduct reporting. While students may know what resources exist on campus, there’s a veil across what reporting actually entails.

During orientation and through the Wellness, Alcohol, and Drug Education Program, students learn about consent, assault and reporting, but not what happens after a report is filed. Confusion about how the reporting process works hurts survivors of sexual assault. If a student is deciding whether to report a sexual misconduct violation or not, more transparency about what happens after reporting would ease some students’ minds about the process.

Regardless of federal, state or school policy, we as a campus community are obligated to try to prevent sexual assault on our campus. While acknowledging that the federal government is compelled to protect students’ rights to due process on campus, we still must recognize that sexual assault on campus is a larger problem.

The priority of the university should be to protect its students and provide a supportive environment. We cannot complete that mission if students feel afraid to report a sexual misconduct violation. The university should stand behind the victims of sexual assault. We have an obligation to make students feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault if they wish. As a community, we have a responsibility to help survivors in any way that we can, regardless of policies that might say otherwise.

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