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Students examine effects of Title IX policy on survivors

| Monday, April 24, 2017

Notre Dame community members gathered in Geddes Hall on Friday to learn more about Title IX policy and how potential policy changes may affect victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence.

Senior Grace Watkins began by going through the history of Title IX and its various processes. She said one of the biggest concerns with Title IX is that the criminal justice system, rather than Title IX officials, should handle sexual assault cases. She said this argument doesn’t take into consideration the lack of victim-based mentality in the criminal justice system.

“It’s really important to emphasize that not only is gender-based violence something that could go through the criminal system, it’s also a civil rights issue,” she said. “If gender-based violence is occurring on campuses, that prevents the victim or the survivor’s educational access. Criminal rights, civil rights — both are valid, and in my opinion, the criminal justice system isn’t really built to handle sexual violence cases.”

Because Title IX does not have the power of subpoena, Watkins said, one of the biggest concerns that has been expressed about potential changes in Title IX policy under the new administration is the evidence standard with which Title IX cases will be judged.

“The main thing that we’re really concerned about is whether the preponderance of evidence standard will shift up to clear and convincing,” she said. “So right now, it sits that you need to have 50 percent, plus one or above, certainty that an act of gender-based violence occurred in order for the party to be found responsible. Clear and convincing moves it up to 75. … We need to value survivors’ ability to access education over having a higher standard.”

The transgender community is also expected to face greater resistance than it did under the Obama administration, fifth-year student Bryan Ricketts said.

“The Obama administration put forth guidance on Title IX saying that its protections under gender discrimination and sex discrimination apply to transgender students,” he said. “If they are denied appropriate housing, or bathroom access or things like that, that is discrimination on the basis of their sex that falls under Title IX. This is not something that is expected to stay intact under the Trump administration.”

According to Ricketts, Title IX policy does not discriminate on the basis of whether or not an assault occurred between two members of the same sex, but there are additional challenges for LGBT survivors of sexual assault.

“Underreporting is more prominent [in the LGBT community], but sexual violence happens,” he said. “ … Not only do you have to be reporting an incident of sexual voiolence, but [you’re] also outing yourself as LGBT — maybe to friends maybe to family, maybe to administrators. Whatever that looks like, you have to go through the coming out process.”

Senior Gabriela Malespin spoke about the additional obstacles immigrants are facing in reporting instances of sexual assault, domestic abuse or other gender-based violence due to the increased authority of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“The Trump administration has eliminated a lot of existing barriers for ICE officials,” she said. “This poses a challenge for a lot of undocumented survivors who might have to face a choice between reporting their abuse and facing the risk of deportation.”

In addition to sources such as Know Your IX — an organization intended to inform students about their Title IX rights, Watkins cited several initiatives being introduced to Notre Dame as ways for students to become more aware of Title IX policy and issues on campus. Freshman Isabel Rooper, the student government director of gender relations, said student government is working to implement programs such as Callisto, a survivor-friendly reporting system, to improve the University’s response to sexual assault.

“It’s hard to know what the problems are with our school’s Title IX compliance if people don’t talk about it and if we don’t hear about it,” she said. “ … We have some recommendations in terms of releasing aggregate data, and the Callisto reporting system has been passed on to [vice president of student affairs] Erin Hoffman Harding. So that’s in her hands now. We’re really hoping that both of those get kind of accepted, and we’d love to get Callisto implemented by fall of 2017.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a junior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, and currently serving as News Editor. She is a proud resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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  • Annette Magjuka

    It is very complex, but another part of the conversation has to be the institutional desire to sweep sexual assault under the rug.