Last May, 55 universities and colleges were under investigation by the Department of Education for their handling of sexual assault cases, and now that number has since climbed to 86. Now, a number of K-12 school districts are being investigated for the same reason.
Currently, 24 K-12 districts across the country are currently under investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases. One district is under investigation for two cases, bringing the grand total of incidents being investigated to 25. Of those investigations, 13 were initiated in 2014.
According to guidance released by the Department of Education in April 2014, “when a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.”
The guidance continues, “If an investigation reveals that sexual violence created a hostile environment, the school must then take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy effects.”
All schools that receive federal funding are held to Title IX, requiring certain actions to be taken in response to sexual assault allegations. This includes all public school districts.
Those found to be in violation are usually asked to make changes in order to address the issue more effectively. If changes are not made, more extreme measures are taken, including loss of federal funding. Since Title IX passed in 1972 there have been a number of violations, but no funding has ever been revoked.
In 2008, a survey of over 1,000 students discovered that 53% of high school girls were victim to some form of sexual assault by a peer, ranging from unwanted touching (51%) to rape (12%). In addition, 39% of peer-on-peer sexual assaults were found to take place on school grounds.
Those numbers may constitution only a portion of what is really going on. According to Girls for Gender Equity, only 3% of students end up filing a report after being harassed.
“We need to have more conversations about sexual harassment in schools,” saidGGE executive director Joanne Smith. “Because sexual harassment is on the spectrum of gender-based violence and can be a precursor that escalates to rape or even murder.”
Despite this, high schools across the country are “basically where colleges were like 15 years ago – in the dark ages,” said Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel at the Victim Right’s Law Center. Bruno said nine out of ten of the high schools she contacts in regards to sexual assault cases are not aware that Title IX applies to them.
“What’s being forgotten is the younger students that are on campus at secondary schools and that’s really problematic,” Bruno said. “I think from society we get a sense of disbelief that this can happen to a 12-year-old or 13-year-old.”