The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Now More Than Ever, Title IX Coordinators Need Greater Institutional Support

Dhanya NageswaranSage Carson was raped by a graduate student in her sophomore year of college. In an article for VICE in 2018, she recounts the grave trauma she endured as a result. Unable to transfer schools and experiencing a steady decline in her GPA, Carson was on the verge of dropping out. Who played the biggest role in helping her graduate? Her Title IX coordinator, who connected her with free counseling, helped her get extensions on her school work and issued a no-contact order between her and her rapist.

The rights of students laid out by the Title IX Education Amendments Act of 1972 remain a contentious topic in American higher education, as one in four women and one in 16 men experience sexual assault during their college career. In 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos first announced her intention to overhaul the guidance on Title IX policies issued by President Barack Obama, which she described as "skewed against the accused." After reviewing the whopping 124,000 comments on the proposed Title IX guidelines posted in late 2018, the Department of Education released its new guidelines and policies on May 6, 2020.

The content of the regulations themselves is controversial, but no matter how the rules have changed, the individuals responsible for ensuring compliance with Title IX — Title IX coordinators — still strive to do their challenging jobs. Title IX coordinators are responsible for implementing rules that prohibit gender-based discrimination and harassment, and they coordinate the investigation of all Title IX matters, including sexual assaults. Depending on the college or university, they may conduct the investigation themselves or rely on others within their institution or outside it.

Following a wave of student-led activism in the early 2010s and Title IX guidelines newly issued by the Office of Civil Rights in 2011 and 2014, many campuses reviewed and modified their procedures for responding to complaints of sexual assault of college students. But to this day, Title IX coordinators work to end sexual assault on campus while grappling with the sometimes conflicting goals of institutional efficiency and legal compliance. It is argued by some that unnecessary bureaucratic procedures may interfere with the ability of Title IX coordinators to achieve justice that is both fair and prompt. Moreover, some Title IX coordinators are hampered by efforts to protect their college or university from negative publicity.

Recent reports indicate that two-thirds of Title IX coordinators have held their positions for less than three years — many for less than one year. The research I have worked on with Senior Research Scientist Linda Williams, Ph.D., at the Wellesley Centers for Women supports this assessment of the high turnover of Title IX coordinators and, more importantly, that many of them are not getting the support they need. Programs designed to prevent sexual assault have been significantly underfunded across the country, and we found in the course of our research that Title IX coordinators view support from institutional leadership as critical to their success. Such support includes resources, the visibility of the office, and an approach that legitimizes the importance of Title IX activities (reporting, investigation, and adjudication, as well as prevention) as part of an institutional commitment to respond to campus sexual assault.

For many, serving as a Title IX coordinator provides a great deal of satisfaction. They see the work of educating students about sexual assault as meaningful and essential. But implementation of Title IX requirements is a heavy burden, particularly if Title IX coordinators are not sufficiently supported by their institutions. Without that support, ending sexual assault on college campuses — in the midst of a pandemic, and with new regulations to follow — is an extremely difficult goal to achieve.

As institutions work to implement these new guidelines, equipping their Title IX coordinators with more resources is in the best interest of the safety of all campus communities. Now is the time when strong support by institutional leaders is critical to guarantee that no one is excluded from education because of sexual harassment or sexual assault, and that the ultimate goal of ending sexual assault on campus is achieved.

Dhanya Nageswaran is a member of the Wellesley College class of 2021 who is double majoring in Economics and Political Science. At the Wellesley Centers for Women, she was awarded the Linda Coyne Lloyd Student Research Internship for the 2019-2020 academic year, which supported her work with Dr. Linda Williams on the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault on college campuses.

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#MeToo is a step forward, but it's time for bystanders and perpetrators to stand up

I applaud the strength and solidarity of the women (and men, too) who are asserting with the hashtag #MeToo, that they are among the estimated one in five women who have been sexually assaulted and one in four working women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Hundreds of thousands of women are assaulted each year in the U.S. Enough IS enough. What I now want to know is how many men will stand up against it. Maybe things are changing… It did not take long before we saw that men were writing #IHave and now as I suggest #IWill which can reflect steps they are taking and will take to end the role they have had in promoting gender-based violence and sexual assault, to assert that they will NOT stand by while sexual harassment and assault happen, that they will call it out when they see it.

Classic rape is recognized as a crime --- when a male stranger attacks a woman at night, kidnaps her, or breaks into her home, and then forces her at gunpoint to submit to sexual acts it is (usually) seen as rape. But this does NOT describe most rape, nor are most perpetrators of sexual assault strangers. Those of us working in this field have recognized for years that most rape occurs at the hands of someone the victim knows. While some of what draws our attention today is workplace sexual harassment not involving sexual contact, clearly in the context of the Harvey Weinstein allegations we are hearing about actual sexual contact, forced sexual contact, contact against the will of the victim. The lawyers can tell you what statute covers this behavior in your particular state, but when it occurs without the consent of the woman or child or when she is unable to consent, this is a crime. A serious crime that can result in jail time, a crime which should result in the attention of the criminal justice system-- though nine times out of ten it does not.

We have known for decades that most rape is perpetrated by men known to the victim; study after study have found that many hundreds of thousands of women and girls (as well as many men and boys) are sexually assaulted each year. So why are we still surprised to hear about it today? (Yes, we are doing better responding to sexual assault and, yes, it is gratifying to see the support that the women who have come forward to report what has happened to them in Hollywood are now—mostly—receiving. But year after year after year this is still with us.)

Again and again we see a backlash against the victims. Perhaps our system of justice will prosecute those who rape very small children or 97-year-olds, or those who assault women who are the valued mothers and daughters of powerful white men, but most sexual assault is not reported and, even when reported, does not lead to an arrest or prosecution.

We must remember it is not only Hollywood producers who sexually assault and not only young actors who are the victims. The rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault include:

  • the boss of a 17-year-old working in a fast food restaurant who needs her job so she can go to college, or
  • the supervisor of a 30-year-old mother who is a dishwasher, waitress, cashier, salesperson and needs her low wage part-time job to feed her family,
  • the manager who knows his employee can’t quit or take the chance of being fired so she won’t report or can’t find the time to go to the police or to court to press her case,
  • the manager, the frat-boy or the professor who knows the victim won’t risk the shame and humiliation of reporting and this won’t make it dangerous for him to continue assaulting her or others,
  • The senior colleague of an assistant professor who will decide her fate on the promotion and tenure committee,
  • The fellow student, the upperclassman or the star football player who knows his attention will flatter the first-year student or the jock who knows after she has had a lot to drink that he has a good chance of getting away with a sexual assault-- he knows that when she passes out in the dorm room, or by a dumpster in the parking lot, or no matter what happens to her, she will be too afraid to scream out or report what this star athlete has done,
  • Or a bus driver or taxi driver, priest, teacher, uncle, military superior, or neighbor who assaults the mother of his child’s best friend,
  • Finally there is the ex-boyfriend or partner who thinks that he is entitled to sex because she consented in the past, because he knows her secrets and can prey on her fears, insecurities, or her shame.

This is the reality of rape—a crime most likely perpetrated by a man known to the victim – an acquaintance, “friend,” classmate, employer, or partner. Such rape is more common than stranger rape. In spite of extensive data showing that rape is underreported, rarely falsely reported, and even after many Harvey Weinsteins--too many to count-- many still hold inaccurate beliefs about the nature of rape, when and to whom it happens, and its impact on the victim—the women who are young and old; Black, white and brown; rich and poor.

Yes, it is notable that women can now join in and feel supported enough to tweet #MeToo and in so doing make it clear that rape is not rare, that rape can happen to anyone. But now, it is also time to ask the bystanders and the actual or wanna-be perpetrators to stand up and say #IHave to indicate “I sexually assaulted someone,” “I stood by while my friends or classmates or colleagues did it,” or “I know men who bragged about it.” And use the hashtag #IWill to assert they will no longer stand by and do nothing but instead that they will stand up and support victims and survivors. #IWill stand up and call out these behaviors even when powerful men state “I just start kissing them. I don't even wait...when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., is senior research scientist and director of the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.


Need help or assistance? In the U.S., call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673.

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Guest — Vickey Cornelison-Grant
Thank you for this very thoughtful post!
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 19:26
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Supporting Housing Stability for Victims of Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Sexual Assault

This policy brief originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2016 Research & Action Report from the Wellesley Centers for Women as part of the multi-media series Advancing the Status of Women & Girls, Families & Communities: PolicyRecommendations for the Next U.S. President.


Victims of Domestic Violence Often Face Housing Problems
The physical, psychological, and economic consequences for victims of domestic violence (DV) and their families have been well documented, and although recent federal legislation provides certain housing protections for some DV victims, many women and their families remain at great risk for homelessness and ongoing violence.

Concerning Data, Trends, and Experiences
Domestic violence (DV) exists in every community, affecting people regardless of age, race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality. Federal legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 and its reauthorization in 2013 acknowledges the problem and provides some housing protections for victims of DV in federally subsidized housing. While such housing protections are an important step forward, there remain critical gaps for many DV victims.

In addition to the physical and psychological effects of DV, many women face considerable economic hardships and challenges securing stable housing for themselves and their families if they try to leave an abusive partner—research indicates a concerning relationship between DV and female homelessness.) Further, dominating behavior by an abuser is part of a pattern of control, and some women trying to leave an abusive relationship may often need to move to substandard housing -- or end up without any housing -- while they often continue to be at risk for violence from their abuser after they leave.

Research has found that among women who were seeking help after separating from an abusive partner, 25 to 50 percent reported housing-related problems. Over one third (38 percent) reported that they became homeless immediately after separating from their partner. An additional 25 percent reported needing to leave their homes during the year after separation.

The same study found that homelessness for DV victims may result from circumstances such as a sudden and urgent need to be safe from an abuser. In such cases, victims may rely on emergency calls to the police for help. However, due to zero tolerance policies or nuisance ordinances across many cities, DV victims who repeatedly call 911 for help may be evicted. Such policies may result in women staying in abusive relationships in order to keep their homes. Women in subsidized housing face additional barriers and are especially vulnerable because there are few low-income housing units available, and the federal programs developed to assist women by paying a portion of their rent (e.g., Section 8) have long waiting lists.

VAWA of 2005 established important housing protections for women in certain federal housing programs. The 2013 reauthorization expanded housing protections to protect more victims by 1) expanding the violence categories to include sexual assault in addition to DV, dating violence, and stalking, 2) expanding protections to cover all federally subsidized housing programs, 3) clarifying the notice tenants must receive about their rights under VAWA, and 4) including an emergency transfer policy requirement for landlords, managers, and owners.

This legislation represents considerable progress in recognizing the housing issues that victims of DV face and has put protections in place for victims to be able to stay in their homes or move to another location. However, implementation challenges remain: there is no definition of “actual and imminent threat,” putting public housing residents at risk for eviction; it is not clear where victims can file complaints against housing administrators; and victims living in private housing are not covered by the legislation. These gaps further extend victimization.

Approaches and Recommendations
Recommendations for improving housing stability include:

  • According to VAWA, a public housing agency (PHA), owner, or manager may evict or terminate assistance to a victim if the PHA, owner, or manager can demonstrate actual and imminent threat to other tenants or employees at the property. Like VAWA 2005, VAWA 2013 does not define “actual and imminent threat.” Therefore, it will be critical for advocates to work with the federal agencies responsible for administering the provisions to include a clear definition of this crucial term as well as guidance in their regulations.

  • The housing protections contained in VAWA do not clearly indicate where to file complaints if a PHA refuses to comply. Policymakers and advocates should provide additional guidance on filing procedures and requirements, and these should be provided to tenants along with their notification of rights.

  • In coordination with local law enforcement and DV advocates, there should be outreach and training provided to PHAs and owners on VAWA 2013 that include victim-centered information on the dynamics of DV, sexual assault, and stalking.

  • Confidentiality requirements that protect the disclosure of personal information required in documents that must be presented by a victim seeking housing protections should be bolstered in the interest of protecting the victim’s new location from an abuser.

  • VAWA is designed to protect victims who reside in federally subsidized housing programs. However, legislatures should consider policies and procedures that protect victims in private housing and those who own homes with their abuser. In a 2015 study that I co-authored along with Kelly M. Socia and Malgorzata J. Zuber, we found that an increase in foreclosures in a community leads to increases of DV reports to police. Indeed, DV affects women in all communities, and there should be housing protections available to every victim seeking to leave an abusive partner.

  • There should be coordinated efforts between the federal government and local communities to eliminate the application of nuisance ordinances to victims of DV, stalking, and sexual assault.

April Pattavina, Ph.D. is a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women working with a team of collaborators on the Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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