One of today’s biggest hot topic issues is that of sexual assault on college campuses. In 2014, almost 100 colleges in the U.S. reported incidents of 10 or more rape cases occurring on campus, with some totaling over 40 incidents at a single school. This year alone (and there are still two full months remaining in the 2016 calendar), there have already been hundreds of reported cases of sexual assault with only a few receiving national recognition via news and media reports. Consider the fact that these statistics only represent the number of sexual abuses that are reported coupled with the fact that the majority of sexual abuse incidents on college campuses remain unreported, and you have a very serious epidemic at hand.
Civil Liability for Sexual Assault on Campus: Title IX
Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any federally-funded education program or activity, and allows victims to recover monetary damages (compensation) and injunctive relief. Title IX states as follows:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Title IX has been interpreted by courts to cover teacher-on-student violence (such as rape and other instances of sexual abuse or assault), student-on-student offenses, and failure to appropriately respond to a student’s sexual assault, which has effectively barred the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit. To prevail, the victim must show that the defendant – oftentimes a school or school board – acted with “deliberate indifference” to the violence or harassment of the student.
A major issue currently at hand deals with how schools are interpreting and addressing the content of Title IX. Some argue that colleges neglecting to adhere to its equality-seeking standards aren’t being prosecuted, while others believe Title IX is exacerbating gender discrimination due to specific quotas in areas of sports and extracurricular activities that are inherently gender-based. Both sides hold compelling arguments, and both advocates and critics will continue to address the effects and legitimacy of Title IX in the near future. No matter where you stand on Title IX, no one can deny the urgent need to address sexual assault on today’s college campuses. It’s a big problem in need of a big solution.
The Brock Turner Controversy
What’s more, legal and criminal repercussions imposed as a penalty for sexual abuse in the U.S. are some of the most lenient. The recent controversial case of ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner earlier this year further illuminates this fact. The case brought against the former student in The People in the State of California v. Turner in 2015 found Turner guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault for penetrating a 22-year-old unconscious female without consent. His sentence? A mere six months of time behind bars in a county jail, of which he served three. Convictions of this magnitude typically carry potential sentences of ten to twenty years in prison. However, more and more sexual assault offenders are being let off the hook with lenient sentences hardly representing the severity of their crimes.
Attempts to Enact Change
Turner’s conviction and sentencing elicited extreme outrage and prompted massive protests across the country, his case symbolizing the significant and dire need to address the growing sexual abuse epidemic sweeping our nation’s schools. Lawmakers and legislators have been responding to ongoing public efforts like those in response to the Turner case, to address the issues of sexual assault and rape on campus. In 2013, the federal government updated its Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA – a piece of previously enacted legislature that requires any colleges obtaining federal aid to annually report to the government how many instances of rape and/or assault occur on their campuses. It also mandates federally-funded schools to have programs specifically addressing rape awareness as well as programs designed to assist victims on campus.
To speak with an attorney at Passen & Powell regarding a potential case involving sexual abuse, assault or Title IX, call us at 312-527-4500 for a Free Consultation.