Protecting children from sexual abuse in schools
The shocking number of sexual violence cases fielded by Chicago Public Schools’ new Title IX office should serve as a wake-up call to everyone that not only is sexual violence happening in K-12 schools, it is horrifically common.
Statistics back this up: One in four girls nationwide will experience sexual assault or abuse before she turns 18 and nearly 70 percent of them experience sexual harassment in high school.
Over 600 brave Chicago students have already summoned the courage to report what happened to them. But disconcertingly, if proposed new Title IX regulations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education are finalized, schools would not have to investigate sexual harassment, even if it is reported to an employee, unless that employee is the K-12 Title IX coordinator or a teacher.
This is problematic because children are far more likely to report sexual harassment to an adult they trust, but most of these adults — e.g., playground supervisors, guidance counselors, athletics coaches — would not be required to help them at all. What’s worse, schools would also be required to presume the survivor may be lying and use a standard of evidence that tilts investigations in favor of named harassers and rapists and against survivors. This would make school proceedings more like criminal courts and would not treat both parties equally — a violation of Title IX itself.
As the CEO of Girls Inc. of Chicago, I work with girls and young women for whom these sexual violence episodes are a daily reality. We must speak out on their behalf and tell the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider these proposed changes.