Title IX and The Hunting Ground

April 17, 2015

With the recent media attention on sexual assault on colleges campuses, Title IX has been in in the spotlight. However, how many us really know what Title IX is, when it was enacted or how it became so instrumental to addressing sexual assault on college campuses? Current media attention would lead you to believe that Title IX is a recent law, which solely protects college students by ensures that sexual assault cases are properly investigated.

Title IX was actually passed in 1972, requiring gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding (www.justice.gov). The logic behind Title IX is that government funds should not be used to support organizations practicing gender-based discrimination. And that individuals experiencing such discrimination should have a way of holding the responsible program or institution accountable.

Title IX covers a total of ten areas, including: access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, and standardized testing and technology (www.titleix.info). From this we see that Title IX protections are not limited to cases of sexual assault, are for both men and women and are not limited to college students.

Many of the first Title IX cases were actually related to the discrimination against women in colleges sports. In fact, the very first Title IX complaint was filed against the University of Michigan Athletics Department in 1974. College students, particularly women, suing universities under Title IX for failure to investigate claims of sexual assault is a relatively new phenomenon. The documentary The Hunting Ground shows one of the first cases of a Title IX complaint regarding sexual assault – it happened at UNC Chapel Hill.

The students used the section of Title IX which guarantees equal treatment in cases of sexual harassment to sue their university. To properly sue for sexual violence under Title IX two conditions must be met. The first is that “the alleged conduct is sufficiently serious to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s educational program, i.e. creates a hostile environment”. The second is that the school, “upon notice, fails to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects” (United States Department of Education).

With both these condition being met the students were able to successfully sue UNC Chapel Hill under Title IX. This was the beginning of students sueing universities under Title IX for such reasons. Since then, more than 100 colleges nationwide have been under Title IX investigation. Many of those cases still pending. Of the resolved cases, many colleges end up settling the claims with large cash payouts. One such case is a 2009 suit involving Arizona State in which the university payed $850,000 to female student who was raped by a male football player (http://sports.espn.go.com).

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