Universities under increasing pressure to address sexual assault on campus

Start assessing your institution’s compliance with federal Title IX regulations now!

Colleges and universities around the nation have recently come under fire for their handling of sexual assault cases reported to campus officials. An increasing number of sexual assault survivors claim that college and university responses to sexual violence are inadequate, and the Obama administration has made awareness about campus sexual assault a signature issue at the White House. The President has developed a "coordinated federal response” to address campus rape and sexual assault through his creation of the White House Task Force on Protecting Students From Sexual Assault (Task Force). He has called for more transparent enforcement of applicable laws (i.e., Title IX) and greater emphasis on developing effective campus policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault. 

President Obama indicated his intention with the task force "is that every college president who has not personally been thinking about this is going to hear about this and figure out who is in charge on their campus of responding properly, and what are the best practices, and are we doing everything that we should be doing."

What are the federal regulations governing sexual assault at colleges and universities? Are you sure they impact my institution?

Since 1972, Title IX has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in all federally assisted educational programs and activities. Title IX states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Title IX provides legal protection against gender-based discrimination for both students and employees and, with some exceptions, covers all aspects of educational programs and activities that receive federal funds.  It also addresses admissions, access to programs and courses, counseling and guidance, housing, financial assistance, employment, and athletics, among other areas. 

While Title IX has historically been used to combat gender discrimination in college athletics, it also aims to protect students from sexual assault and harassment. In 2011 the Department of Education sent a letter - commonly known as the Dear Colleague Letter - to colleges and universities to remind them of their Title IX responsibilities. The letter indicated that they must take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence in accordance with the requirements of Title IX, and warned that a failure to adequately address sexual assault put them at risk of losing federal funding.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2013 imposed new obligations on colleges and universities in their handling of and response to sexual offenses, and required changes in their Title IX policies and procedures to maintain compliance.

The intent of VAWA is for universities to adopt institutional policies and procedures to increase training and awareness to institutional personnel to address and prevent campus sexual violence.

What must we do to make our institution safer for our students, and compliant with federal regulations?

It is critical for institutions to evaluate their current practices and implement the necessary policies and procedures to effectively handle any Title IX complaint related to sexual assault. Don’t wait for an assault to occur, or a federal investigation to act! 

On May 1, 2014, the Department of Education released a preliminary list of 55 schools under federal scrutiny for possible Title IX violations.

Start working with your internal audit department, your office of general counsel, and your compliance office now to assess the compliance of your current sexual assault policies, procedures, and resources.

For more information on this topic, or to learn how Baker Tilly higher education specialists can help, contact our team.