Ask any advocate who works on sexual assault in schools, and they’ll probably agree that the most common question we get asked is “Why not just turn these cases over to the police?” After all, when most people think of rape and other forms of gendered violence, they think of crime and punishment.
But sexual assault in schools doesn’t only violate criminal law. It also poses a threat to students’ opportunities to learn.
U.S. courts and our government more generally recognize that sexual assault is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited in schools according to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The legal argument is technical, focusing on what it means for someone to be mistreated “because of sex.” But I think the underlying instinct is intuitive: It’s really hard to learn when you have to share a class with your rapist. It’s hard to study in a library with your abusive ex, or participate in campus life while you’re being stalked. Women, girls, and genderqueer students are disproportionately victimized – particularly if they’re trans. That means not only are certain groups of students targeted because of their sex, but also that sexual assault ultimately impacts efforts toward sex equality on campus and in public life more broadly.
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