Campus sexual assault rules fall short, prompting overhaul – troyrecord

By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — What Karla Arango says started as a sexual assault in a dorm escalated further as news spread across campus. Her attacker’s fraternity brothers snubbed her, she says, whispering about him in the cafeteria, blocking her phone number and blasting her asbestos on social media. Soon his grades plummeted.

Arango’s experience during his freshman year at Northern Kentucky University highlights what experts say are deep-rooted problems with Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. He turns 50 this month.

Heralded as a game-changer for female college athletes, the law is also meant to protect accusers of sexual assault and harassment like Arango, giving them options like moving dorms or even having their abusers removed from school.

In practice, the law’s protections are insufficient, accusers and defenders say.

Polarizing regulations finalized under former President Donald Trump have discouraged students from coming forward with allegations of abuse. Those who do face a live hearing and cross-examination by someone chosen by their alleged abuser. The rules also narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and allowed colleges to ignore most cases occurring off campus.

President Joe Biden and other critics say the rules, finalized in 2020 by then Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, do not adequately protect victims of sexual assault, deter them from reporting misconduct and go too far in protecting the accused. Biden is expected to announce new rules as early as this month.

In the meantime, many students have withdrawn entirely, never reporting the abuse. Or they chose to take an informal route, in which the accused could be asked not to take classes with the accuser or to change schools – often without any markings on their record.

Arango ultimately decided not to pursue his case, and nothing happened to the other student.

“I felt like my identity was starting to form and then it was completely stripped away,” said Arango, now 21 and heading into her senior year. “Everyone just saw me as this girl who was lying about being sexually assaulted. And I was turning really bad.

The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted, but Arango has allowed the use of his name. She sits on a survivor caucus for End Rape on Campus, a national advocacy group.

Sexual assaults are commonplace on college campuses. Thirteen percent of college students overall and nearly 26 percent of female undergraduates reported nonconsensual sexual touching, according to a 2019 Association of American Universities survey of 181,752 students on 27 campuses. Rates were almost as high for transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming students.

According to the survey, only about a third of the accusers reported what had happened. It often ends badly, according to Know Your IX, an advocacy group that has found that students who report abuse often leave school, at least temporarily, and are threatened with libel suits.

“The current process isn’t really working for anyone,” said Emma Grasso Levine, head of Know Your IX.

At some universities, the Trump administration’s rules were followed by a decrease in the number of complaints handled by Title IX offices, according to records provided to The Associated Press.

At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 204 Title IX complaints were filed in 2019, but only 12 in 2021, records show. The number of cases meeting the criteria for formal investigation fell from 27 to zero over the same period. No student has been found liable for a Title IX violation at the university since 2020.

At Michigan State University, the number of Title IX complaints fell from more than 1,300 in 2019 to 56 in 2021. School officials say the decline is the result of narrower definitions in 2020 regulations. Complaints that fall outside the scope of federal rules now go through a similar but separate disciplinary system, officials said.

Arango’s nightmare began in August 2019, when she passed out after playing a drinking game with her new fraternity friends.

She remembers waking up on an air mattress, a student on top of her, although she didn’t give her consent for sex. She grabbed her things and headed to class, acting like nothing had happened.

She remained silent until October, when she told a friend about the fraternity but swore him to secrecy.

A few days later, she received an email from the Title IX office stating that her name had been included in a misconduct report for sexual assault. Her friend had shared her secret with the president of the fraternity, who was a resident advisor and required to report it.

The accused student soon found out. Her fraternity brothers shunned her as she weighed whether to pursue a Title IX investigation. People called her a liar, she said.

Arango asked Title IX officials if the other student would be suspended or disciplined if she filed a formal complaint. The coordinator told her that the process was long and that if nothing else, she could probably get a no contact order.

She was skipping two classes to avoid the student and his friends, well on her way to receiving the first two Cs of her life – grades that could threaten her scholarship. Then there was the isolation. “The thing is, nobody talks to me anymore,” she realized.

She suspended the investigation process. By the time she revisited it in the spring, the pandemic was slowing everything down. Then the new DeVos regulations were announced.

“Byzantine” is the word attorney Russell Kornblith uses to describe them. He is representing three Harvard University graduate students in a lawsuit alleging the Ivy League school for years ignored sexual harassment complaints from a renowned professor.

He said pursuing cases can be time consuming and distract students from their classroom work. Income disparities often show up, with well-off students being able to afford lawyers and others represented only by themselves. In some cases, the accusers find themselves questioned about their sexual past.

A process that had once seemed rough became overwhelming for Arango.

“I just saw the words ‘cross-examination’ and freaked out,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘I can’t. I can’t put myself through this.

As more and more complaints fall outside its scope, experts have sounded the alarm that colleges are increasingly trying cases in parallel campus discipline systems that don’t guarantee not give accusers the same rights as Title IX.

Justin Dillon, a Washington-based attorney who has defended dozens of college students accused of sexual misconduct, called the cross-examination process created under DeVos an “unprecedented success” but criticized the overall handling of the cases. sexual misconduct under Title IX.

“It kind of created this kind of sexual police state on college campuses that I think goes way beyond ensuring that men and women have equal access to education,” he said. -he declares.

Students are filing fewer sexual misconduct cases and most of them — more than 90% — are now handled informally, said Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators. Sometimes the defendant will simply agree to transfer so his new school won’t know about what happened, he said.

For all the challenges colleges face in adjudicating sexual assault cases, Title IX at least holds them accountable for protecting the rights of accusers who might otherwise sue, said Maha Ibrahim, an attorney at Equal Rights Advocates, a non-profit organization that represents survivors.

“What if it wasn’t there?” So what ? ” she says. “You know, college campuses are just a free space for everyone, a very dangerous place for women and gay people. Now what?”

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Associated Press reporter Collin Binkley contributed from Boston.

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The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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