By Julia Alford, NCJW Legislative Intern
June 23rd marked the 44th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Title IX is often associated with athletics as the law mandates that girls and boys have equal opportunities to play sports. But Title IX is more than just sports, it helps to advance and protect both women and girls in 10 keys areas: access to higher education, athletics, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and technology.
Most of us never think about Title IX in our daily lives, but I was reminded of this landmark law several weeks ago when Buzzfeed released a letter from a Stanford rape survivor. In the powerful letter, the woman recalls what she remembers from the night and next morning, her internalized pain, and the failure of the justice system. Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, was found guilty of three felony accounts by twelve jurors. However, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail, and he will be released three months early due to good behavior. Turner will walk freely after three years of probation. Though Brock Turner will spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender, the woman he raped will spend the rest of her life overcoming this tragedy.
It is unclear if the woman who wrote the letter is a Stanford student or not but, what is clear is that she is not alone. One out of four college women will be sexually assaulted during their time in higher education. Under Title IX, colleges and universities are required to address sexual assault and sexual violence. Sexual assault has become an important topic on campuses in the United States and students are increasingly holding their administrations accountable to Title IX standards, including at UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia University, and the University of Virginia. In 2014, the Obama administration took steps to combat this issue under the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and later created the It’s On Us campaign, of which I’m proud that NCJW is a partner. President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to protecting students from sexual assault on campus. But the commitment cannot stop there.
In a few short weeks, millions of college students (including myself) will be going back to campus. A new class of freshmen will arrive and the statistic may likely still be the same: one out of four. This is unacceptable. University administration and law enforcement must comply with Title IX and simultaneously raise awareness about this issue.
States, too, can play a role. In New York State where I attend college, the “Enough is Enough” law was passed in 2015 to create an “uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy, and expanded access to law enforcement [on college campuses].” But New York is only one out of four states with laws like affirmative consent. It’s critical that states update their laws to protect individuals on their campuses (in addition to those living in the state).
Despite the horrors described in the Buzzfeed letter, we must not let the survivor’s cry for action be in vain. Let’s enforce Title IX, hold universities accountable, work with university and local law enforcement, and ensure states play their part. If we don’t, we run the risk of the statistic becoming one out of three.