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Dispelling Title IX Myths

The Detroit News recently published the opinion piece “Roll Back the Title IX Madness.” Its author explained that he and his male classmates lived in fear on campus of being falsely accused of sexual assault. The piece advocated for trashing Title IX sexual harassment and sexual assault investigations as a solution.

That’s wrong. Here’s why.

Title IX is a subsection of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law that addresses discrimination. Some may associate Title IX’s role in expanding female sports opportunities on college campuses. It also addresses gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual violence at educational institutions receiving federal funding.

The “Dear Colleague” letter from the US Department of Education (DOE) dates back to 2011. The letter sets out best practices guidelines for schools as they institute procedures for students to report and for the school to investigate allegations of misconduct under Title IX. Essentially, the federal government is saying “If you want our money, you need to comply with these rules that will make your campus safer for students. And here are some tips on how to do that.” The guidelines spell out due process protocol for both complainants and respondents.

Title IX enforcement by a school is not the same thing as a criminal prosecution by the State. Accordingly, the burden of proof for Title IX administrative proceedings is more like that of a civil lawsuit, the “preponderance of evidence” standard (or more likely than not). The Constitutional standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” that applies in criminal cases is higher because a criminal conviction can result in incarceration.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but by improving reporting procedures and informing students of their rights and responsibilities under Title IX, schools frequently see an initial increase in reporting. This doesn’t mean the new reports are false. It is evidence that more individuals who might not have reported misconduct are in fact coming forward.

Survivors of sexual assault in particular have low reporting rates to law enforcement, due in part to the social stigma they may face and due to a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. A 2016 study by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that although 1 in 5 female college students reported being a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault, only 65% reported it to a friend or family member. Less than 10% reported it to police or school officials.

But what if you’re accused of misconduct? What if your buddies want to testify that the complainant spent then night performing oral sex on them, and the school won’t listen? (I’m referring to a “fear” cited in the “Madness” op-ed piece.) First, the Amherst case that was mentioned was a Title IX proceeding that was not open to the public. We don’t know all the facts. We do know that “slut-shaming” and victim-blaming (i.e. calling a sexual assault survivor a slut or accusing a victim of fault due to consuming alcohol or dressing a certain way) is a major barrier that prevents survivors of sexual assault from coming forward.

Further, false reporting of sexual assault is statistically no different than false reporting for any crime. Most studies show that false reporting in general ranges between 2-8% for any offense and is no higher for sexual assault reporting.

Finally, Title IX compliance is not about gender, it is about sexual assault.  What is often lost is that men can be and often are victims of sexual assault too, and it benefits all genders to make it safe for victims to come forward.  Based on numerous studies by the CDC, we also know that traditional college students in their teens and twenties, both female and male, fall within an age category that is at a higher risk of being a victim of sexual assault. And a majority of such victims are assaulted by an acquaintance or an intimate partner – what used to be called “date rape.”

Sexual violence on college campuses is a real problem. Retracting the “Dear Colleague” letter won’t make that problem go away. Nor will it repeal Title IX and a schools’ legal obligations. It will only remove existing guidelines for schools’ compliance. It’s a bad, short-sighted idea that we need to prevent. As a society, we need it to be safe for victims to come forward and perpetrators to be held accountable.


Sarah Prout Rennie, JD

Executive Director

Michigan Coalition to End

Domestic & Sexual Violence

(517)347-7000, Ext 14