Over the past several years, sexual assault on college campuses have become an epidemic.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
I am one of those five women.
When I was a first-year student, I was sexually assaulted. I was not the first. I would not be the last.
It was that same year, I had listened to conversations about how few people ardently believe that the victim is responsible for what happened to them.
And think that questions like, “Did you invite him into your house?”, “What dress were you wearing?”, and “Were you drunk?” are actually relevant and legitimate to be thrown at a survivor.
As a result, I was too scared to go to my campus with my assault and I reported it to no one.
My education, like that of many survivors, was severely disrupted.
Without support and accommodations many survivors see their grades drop as they struggle to participate in, or even attend, their classes. Others are forced to leave school temporarily, transfer, or drop out altogether.
Thanks, to survivors intentionally sharing their stories of how their universities had systematically mishandled their cases, increased visibility of The Hunting Ground documentary, the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign, and Lady Gaga’s performance at last year’s Academy Awards campus sexual assault has reached a fever pitch in the national conversation.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education gave schools guidance on how they should handle cases of sexual assault under Title IX which was passed in the 70s and is the law that says no one should be discriminated against, harassed, or excluded on the basis of their sex at any federally-funded education program.
Since victim blaming is the rawest form of discrimination Title IX is a very important step toward protecting survivors of sexual violence and ensuring accountability.
This is because the Title IX guidance, also known as the “Dear Colleague” letter , has since launched more than 340 investigations into how colleges across the country have mishandled reports of sexual violence.
It can’t end here.
At the time of my assault, I didn’t know I had any recourse through Title IX. I didn’t fight for my rights because I didn’t know I had them.
I imagine a lot would have been differently if I had known about Title IX then. Also, that it doesn’t matter what I was wearing, where I was going, who I was with or whether I had been drinking or not.
Sexual assault is sexual assault and is always equally punishable under any circumstance.
It was very troubling that Betsy DeVos failed the series of questions she was asked during her January 17th confirmation hearing about Title IX.
She refused to articulate a firm commitment to using Title IX to respond properly to sexual assault on campus.
Regardless, of what DeVos wants to deny and hide from, campus sexual assault is an epidemic that is only going to continue to get worse if we do not actively acknowledge it and fight against it.
As secretary of education it’s up to DeVos to uphold, enforce, and maybe rewrite guidance that reaches into the dorms and locker rooms across the country.
Our country has finally begun to shatter the silence on sexual violence and survivors nationwide are refusing to go back to how things were before. I have faith that we will continue to make progress as long as we all continue to stand up for what’s right.
So let’s keep that #DearBetsy hashtag alive. Who knows? Maybe, her boss will read it.