How Title IX Protects Against Sexual Violence
Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 (aka, Title IX) is a federal law in the United States prohibiting any publicly funded school or university from practicing discrimination on the basis of sex or gender in all school activities. In the late 1970s, feminist activists and advocates argued that sexual harassment of and sexual violence toward female students was a form of sex-based discrimination. They contended that because sexual violence disproportionately impacted women, it discouraged female students from participating fully in their education. This was first upheld by a federal court in 1980 in the Alexander v. Yale decision. Over the next few decades, students and staff of educational institutions used Title IX to address inequities they experienced at work and school due to gender-based violence and discrimination.
In a landmark event for Title IX in 2011, a letter known as the “Dear Colleague” letter was issued by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, marking the first time the department officially confirmed colleges and universities are required to address sexual violence and harassment under Title IX. More recently in 2020, a federal judge upheld that Title IX also protects the rights of transgender students to attend school free of discrimination based on their gender identity.
For the last 50 years, Title IX has brought significant changes to how all publicly funded schools address sexual and gender-based violence and harassment that people of all genders experience. However, Title IX policies and procedures can look different in practice depending on the setting.
What does Title IX look like in Fairfax County?
Title IX applies to all public schools, colleges, and universities in Fairfax County. Domestic and Sexual Violence Services sat down with Title IX representatives from Fairfax County Public Schools, Northern Virginia Community College, and George Mason University to learn more.
What happens when I talk to Title IX?
When someone first connects with their Title IX office, they will be given the opportunity to discuss their experience, whether it is identified as requiring a Title IX investigation or not. Referrals can be made by individuals who have been impacted directly, or as mandated for certain staff and employees. According to George Mason University Deputy Title IX Coordinator Emily Gleason, “You have options, and you can ask questions, [and] have those questions answered so you can make the most informed decision for yourself.”
If the situation qualifies for a Title IX investigation, students or staff members involved in the incident will be given the opportunity to talk with someone from their Title IX office about what happened, ask any questions they have about the process, and be given information about supportive measures available. Each student/staff member can identify a support person, such as a parent or friend, as their “advocate” to sit with them throughout the process.
After this, the investigation process will begin, which can include interviews of all parties and collecting information about the incident (such as emails or texts). Title IX investigators are responsible for collecting information about the case, but they don’t make final decisions. “These are not biased investigations," says FCPS Title IX Coordinator Colby Bruno. "Our team works very hard on uncovering all the evidence available to us. In these cases, the outcome is not always the most important objective. It also matters that students who need help receive it and students who are involved in the process feel heard.”
Finally, information collected by the Title IX office will be referred to the appropriate decision makers (e.g., superintendents’ office or Office of Student Conduct) to determine the outcomes for all parties involved.
In situations where a referral does not qualify for an investigation, a student may be referred to a student conduct office or an employee may be referred to human resources.
What resources are available to students and/or staff involved with a Title IX investigation?
Supportive measures are available to all students and staff involved in Title IX investigations but may look different based on your school system and the circumstances of the investigation. Bruno, of FCPS, says, “We really place value in those types of supportive measures that keep the kids in school and without incident.”
Supportive measures can include things like a no-contact order, allowing a student to leave class 5 minutes early or have an escort between classes, or referring students to outside supports. Title IX offices can refer students to counseling services through their respective school services, and to all employees through their respective Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Additional referrals can be made to appropriate school offices for things such as financial support, childcare, and other practical resources.
Students can also request academic supportive measures, such as extensions on assignments or exams, transferring to a different class period, or excused absences. In college settings, academic supports can also include non-medical withdrawal from classes and sometimes even tuition reimbursement (depending on the circumstances). Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) Title IX Coordinator Lauren McKown says, “If you come to me and tell me what you’re struggling with, we can talk about what options there are. We will do our best to figure out how we can help you succeed in your studies.”
How is working with Title IX different from working with law enforcement or the courts?
The Title IX process is an administrative process to determine whether school policies have been disregarded, not whether a crime has taken place. While someone working with Title IX is not required to make a report to law enforcement, some may want to seek criminal justice intervention if a crime has been committed and/or if they need support outside of school jurisdiction. For example, someone who has been stalked and granted a no-contact order through Title IX while on school property or at school events may want to speak with an advocate about a protective order in the community. More information on the protective order process can be accessed by contacting an advocate at Fairfax County’s Domestic Violence Action Center.
How is Title IX different in K-12 schools compared to colleges/universities?
The main difference between Title IX for students in Fairfax County Public Schools and students going to college is that all students in FCPS are required to receive access to an education. While some Title IX investigations for sexual violence in a college setting can lead to a student being removed from classes or expelled from school entirely, Fairfax County Public School students would be transferred to a different school or program.
Additionally, while parental involvement is a key part of Title IX investigations for Fairfax County Public Schools students younger than 18, cases involving students attending institutions of higher education are protected by confidentiality. If a student at George Mason University or Northern Virginia Community College would like to involve a parent, they can identify them as their “advocate,” as discussed above.
How has Title IX changed since its inception 50 years ago and where do you see it going next?
While initially seen by many as a way to expand programs for women and girls, Title IX has become an important means for students experiencing sexual harassment, assault, and gender-based violence to maintain access to their schooling. The expansion of Title IX to require schools to address these issues on campus has made an impact on students of all genders.
McKown says Title IX allows schools to address sexual violence and harassment in specific ways, rather than relying on the general student conduct process. “We are now providing a stronger and better response to sexual violence.” Gleason says Title IX is also becoming a way for more students to have their concerns about sexual harassment taken seriously and has given students language to describe their experiences, “Our students have so much more of a voice then before.”
How to access Title IX at your school
If you (or someone you know) are a student or school staff member of any gender who has experienced sexual violence, sexual harassment, or discrimination based on sex or gender identity, find out more about Title IX in your school system below:
• Fairfax County Public Schools
• Northern Virginia Community College
• George Mason University