During the conformation hearings of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, Senator Robert Casey asked DeVos if she would uphold the Title IX guidance regarding sexual assaults on campuses. This led many to question exactly what Title IX actually referred to, as most people think Title IX is simply that law that requires schools to offer the same number of sports teams for girls as boys. Title IX is actually more expansive – and more important – than making sure there is a girls’ golf team.
Title IX (of the Education Act of 1972) is an anti-discrimination law that states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This includes sexual and gender-based harassment. And in 2011, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued a letter advising school officials that sexual assault should also be considered a form of sexual harassment, and thus prohibited under Title IX.
Unfortunately, in her answer, DeVos did not fully support the importance of Title IX in prohibiting these behaviors. This came on the heels of an audio-recorded conversation of then-candidate Trump discussing a woman’s body parts and detailing previous sexual assaults. Somehow, the protection against sexual harassment and assault became normalized and politicized.
Typically, people recognize that sexual assault is unacceptable; people often assume, however, that sexual harassment in schools is just kids flirting with one other. It is critical to understand what sexual harassment actually is, and why it must be an explicitly banned behavior. Sexual harassment in adolescence includes: “unwelcome conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature” (AAUW, 2011). It also includes being called a homophobic name or being teased because of perceived or actual sexual orientation. It is usually from one peer to another, and it harms both girls and boys.
Sexual harassment, in many ways, resembles bullying. Indeed, 64% of students who were bullied were also sexually harassed (Ashbaugh & Cornell, 2008).
By the sixth grade, 38% of children report having experienced sexual harassment (AAUW, 2001), with more than one-quarter of sixth-grade children reporting being the target of at least one sexual harassment experience in the past 30 days, and 11% reporting harassment at least once per week (Ashbaugh & Cornell, 2008).
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