When a girl tells a teacher or coach that she was raped in the hallways or parking lot of her high school, is her school allowed to make her leave school, drop a class, or quit a team or activity? Can her school tell her to “work it out” one-on-one with the boy who attacked her? If the school investigates the attack, is it appropriate for the school to rely on gender stereotypes in trying to figure out what happened, such as assuming that the sex was consensual because the victim didn’t cry when she reported it, or because the victim and attacker were dating?
The answer to all of these questions is NO, but many high schools haven’t gotten the message, and many students don’t know their rights at school include the right to an equal education free from gender-based violence, dating violence, and sexual harassment and assault. The ACLU has heard from kids around the country that schools do all of these things when responding to students’ reports about gender-based violence. That’s why we want high school and middle school students to know that schools have a responsibility under federal law to protect your right to a safe learning environment, and that your school cannot punish or pressure you for being a victim of violence or harassment.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a civil rights law that applies to all public schools and any private school that receives federal funding. It says that schools cannot discriminate based on sex, including on the basis of sex stereotypes, in any education program or activity. Under Title IX, sex discrimination can include rape, sexual assault, dating violence, and sexual harassment that the school knows about, or should know about. Schools can be held responsible under Title IX if they ignore or respond inappropriately to gender-based violence or harassment that is severe or pervasive enough to deprive a student of equal access to education, or to an educational activity like being on a team or in the band. Every school must have a Title IX coordinator, a person who deals with complaints of sexual violence, and schools must tell students who that person is and how to contact him or her.
To learn more about your rights under Title IX and what your high school or middle school should and should not do when responding to reports of gender-based violence, download the ACLU’s Know Your Rights information to your phone or computer.
If you are a college student, you can learn more about your Title IX rights and your college’s responsibilities here, and specific information about your college’s responsibility to protect your right to safe housing here.
(Originally posted on Amplify.)
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