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  • Kayla Arch

Protection and Prevention: Title IX’s Role in Supporting Victims of Sexual Assault at Universities

Student-run organizations at the University of Lynchburg protesting against the poor response of reported sexual assault cases, November 2021.

Trigger warning: This article talks about sexual assault and may be difficult for some individuals to read.

In the minds of college students, there are many daily stressors that contribute to their overwhelming schedules, such as a large academic workload and any extracurricular activities that they may participate in. Now beginning my sophomore year, I have faced the realities of the more threatening stressors that can take over an individual's life. Before attending college, my mother made sure to buy me mace for my protection. I have heard stories from friends and family members of what it means to be a victim. While attending college, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted, and of these women only 12% actually report it. Although 12% is disappointingly low, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 has made it much easier for victims of sexual assault to seek guidance and safety.

Title IX has significantly helped women fight against gender discrimination in all aspects of life when it comes to federally funded programs and organizations. Title IX specifically states that “[N]o 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 was not created with an intent to help victims of sexual assault and violence, but has been a key factor in reporting and requiring universities to act on these said incidences. The court case Simpson v. University of Colorado (2006) helped set a precedent for universities to help support and defend victims of sexual assault. The ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Racial Justice Program joined the ACLU of Colorado, along with several other organizations, to argue on the behalf of two women, Ms. Simpson and Ms. Gilmore, who were both sexually assaulted by members of the football team at that time. A federal court then discovered a sufficient amount of evidence that C.U. acted with “deliberate indifference” in regards to helping these victims. When the court ruled in their favor, it sent a clear message to other academic institutions that gender discrimination and indifference towards females reporting incidences of sexual assault will not be tolerated.

President Richard Nixon in the process of signing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Fast forward to 2020, Betty DeVos began the process of drafting a rule to add on to Title IX that would strip away the rights of victims of sexual assault. These new regulations would give more rights to the individual that is accused, resulting in an indirect form of victim blaming. Not only does it primarily communicate that victims should not be believed, but the department also limited what defines sexual harassment to behavior that is “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” When a victim fears that they will not be believed, they are increasingly less likely to report the incident. When students are become victims of sexual assault it negatively affects their mental and emotional well being, which result in students struggling to handle their academics.

Now, advocates of Title IX are calling on the Biden administration to create new rules and regulations to help victims more. There is currently a proposed rule in place that would provide a more inclusive definition of sexual assault and discrimination, expanding supportive measures, and implementing proactive measures like training and education for universities and other federally funded programs.

A main priority that colleges and universities should have is to to preventative measures instead of only focusing responding to instances of sexual assault. The preamble of Title IX also states that “educators, experts, students, and employees should also endeavor to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first place.” Sexual assault will continue to be an ongoing issue that will affect more than enough individuals of all ages, genders, and skin tones if their is a lack of education. There are many different behaviors and signs of what sexual assault is, and it is important for these schools to properly inform their students about the topic and where to go when you or someone you know is in trouble.

The University of Maryland Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct has a wide variety of confidential and non-confidential resources that are available to all students. The campus’s main platform that helps with victims of sexual violence is CARE to Stop Violence, which can be an anonymous platform that helps individuals navigate their options. If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault and need help, there are many resources on campus that can support you.


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