Schools must do more to help victims of sexual assault

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Schools must do more to help victims of sexual assault

Students at Take Back the Night Protest in 2014.

Students at Take Back the Night Protest in 2014.

File Photo

Students at Take Back the Night Protest in 2014.

File Photo

File Photo

Students at Take Back the Night Protest in 2014.

by Shalika Oza, Staff Writer

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Regardless of whether you are in high school, college or wherever you are in life, sexual assault happens. 

Recently, Leland High School within the San Jose Unified School District, the high school I attended, has been hit with a lawsuit from a former student whose sexual assault complaint was not handled properly.

The lawsuit arose as the survivor claims the school, specifically an assistant principal and the former principal, failed to do anything to prevent the harassment the person faced after an assault took place

The survivor’s lawyer noted, although there are procedures and policies in place for this type of complaint, they were disregarded in this case. The school district and specific high school have faced a lawsuit of a similar nature before.

This got me thinking: Are schools – both high schools and colleges – doing enough for survivors of sexual assault? 

The objective of Title X

Currently, federally funded universities have a policy statute called Title IX, but it does not apply to private schools, but it does apply to San Diego State.

According to Know Your IX, “Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding.” 

Since the passing of Title IX, significant changes have been made to how sexual assault cases are handled, including how hearings and cases run by the school are supposed to look.

 In 2018, the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals ruled the accused has the right to cross-examine the accuser. The University of Michigan had to revise its sexual assault policies to comply, and the ACLU is urging to reverse this change. 

Many are saying this practice is unethical as it can bring survivors — who are often mentally scarred from the experience — back to a very dark place.

Another law passed in California in early 2016 requires middle and high school students to learn about sexual assault and harassment

In previous years, California found K-12 schools have failed to stay up to date with Title IX policy, and this 2016 law aims to improve resources for sexual assault survivors. 

Unfortunately, this was news to me. The law went into effect for the 2016-2017 school year, while I was still in high school. I never attended any assembly about sexual assault nor was I informed of new policies. 

However, merely educating people on sexual assault doesn’t magically stop it from happening. No matter how many mandatory training courses are required, we can never fully prevent this from happening. Rape doesn’t stop because we say, “Don’t rape.”

This is not to say these conversations should not keep happening. The goal is to make sure that sexual assault doesn’t happen, but if it does then there is a solid plan and policy in place to actively help the survivor and hold the abuser accountable.

The implications of new Title IX rules

Unfortunately, SDSU will have to update its sexual assault complaint procedures per the federal rules created by U.S. Department of Education head, Betsy DeVos

These federal rules, under Title IX, will give more rights to the accused, including allowing for cross-examination, similar to the Sixth Court of Appeals ruling. Because Title IX is federally funded, public universities may lose federal funding if they do not comply, including SDSU. 

This has drawn much criticism. University of California systemwide interim Title IX Coordinator, Suzanne Taylor for the LA Times said, “Proposed changes will reverse decades of well-established, hard-won progress toward equity in our nation’s schools, unravel critical protections for individuals who experience sexual harassment, and undermine the very procedures designed to ensure fairness and justice.”

This policy will most likely discourage students from filing a complaint in the first place. No student wants to file a claim only to be cross-examined and picked apart by the person they are accusing of abusing them. 

The mental strength to go through that process is of prolific magnitudes. It is something that will be mentally exhausting for students and may deter them from school work and social activities. 

This policy does nothing to help survivors of sexual assault, and without involving properly trained officials to help handle the situation, survivors may face even more suffering and trauma again at the hands of the person who hurt them the in the first place.

In the second installment of a three-part series, The Atlantic dives into the neurobiological changes a sexual assault survivor experiences and the behaviors they may exhibit. Although this article was written before the new federal rules, it exemplifies why such a law would be a poor idea. 

Survivors must be provided with the proper resources

While SDSU has not faced many sexual assault hearings, the hearings it has conducted don’t seem to have gone too well, even without DeVos’s proposal.

A case from 2008 shows the injustice felt by a sexual assault survivor at SDSU. In the hearing,  the accused individual was allowed to have an attorney, yet the survivor was told she could not have an attorney, only a victim advocate

The survivor had to fight her own case with no court experience or an attorney to even guide her through the process. 

Justice for survivors of sexual assault should be immediate. 

This doesn’t mean expelling someone on the spot, but signifies that schools and Title IX coordinators should be able to provide more resources for the survivor, help secure someone for the survivor to aid in the legal battle or even obtain someone to help the survivor in a mental capacity. 

SDSU may have given justice to the survivor in the end, but justice does not equal the end of sexual assault. 

The survivor had to live through that experience while battling the legal system and school for only a minor consequence of expulsion. She deserved to have the proper support to guide her through such a draining process and to make sure she was okay. But these resources were not made available and that is not acceptable.

In more recent years, SDSU has made an effort to receive student feedback and data on ways to update and strengthen sexual assault resources

Still, federal compliance may hinder that. 

What about the falsely accused?

While DeVos’s draws criticism, there are still those who agree with it. Some say these kinds of due process protections are necessary given a concern about false accusations. 

I am fair enough to admit there have been instances where accusers lied about experiencing sexual assault, but that statistic is staggeringly low. According to the National Violence Resource Center, it is between two and 10% of the cases reported

The accused are being accused for a reason. From The Atlantic, former attorney general Edwin Meese said, “The thing is you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.”

We need to do more for victims of sexual assault

Speaking out about sexual assault already comes with many consequences for the survivor, so why would someone want to put themselves through that intentionally. 

It is important to understand that many times sexual assault turns into “he said, she said” debate, but why do we immediately jump to disprove what “she said”? 

As a whole, we are living in a world that victimizes girls before anything even happens. We tell girls to not wear provocative clothing, to not take a drink from anyone, go to the bathroom with a group, carry pepper spray, don’t walk alone at night and the list goes on. 

Instead, we choose to expect people to jump through hoops to not get raped.

As a school, we need to make sexual assault survivors feel they have a safe space on campus and can report a sexual assault instead of implementing policies in place that discourage it. 

As a state, we need to be able to examine these federal policies and realize they are not useful and we need to come up with ways to rightfully help survivors. 

As a country, we need to destigmatize sexual assault, talk about it and appoint lawmakers who can provide the proper resources and instate policies that give support to survivors of sexual assault. 

We need to do better.

Shalika Oza is a sophomore studying journalism.

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