While the Title IX sexual violence guidance announced by Vice President Joe Biden on April 4 raises many issues for administrators of K-12 school districts as well as college and university officials, it also has important ramifications for the law enforcement and security officers who protect these communities. The guidance, issued by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), makes it clear campus law enforcement has an important role to play in the sexual violence policies adopted and published by institutions under the law that are intended to provide for prompt and equitable resolutions geared towards eliminating gender inequity.
Title IX Doesn't Just Apply to Athletics
Best known for requiring gender equity in collegiate athletics, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) broadly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Sexual violence is viewed under the law as an extreme form of hostile environment/sexual harassment and must be addressed. When an institution "knows or reasonably should know" about a hostile environment, they are required "to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence and address its effects." Institutions must adopt and publicize policies as well as designate at least one Title IX coordinator to respond to their obligations under the law.
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Under Title IX guidelines, harassment is considered to be conduct that creates an impermissible hostile environment if it is "sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the school's program." Less severe conduct with sufficient repetition may rise to this level, while even one incident that is more serious may rise to this level. For example, "a single instance of rape is sufficiently severe to create a hostile environment" according to OCR.
The scope of sexual violence covered by Title IX includes an array of offense categories, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion. This is consistent with the scope of forcible sex offenses covered for colleges and universities under the Jeanne Clery Act's statistical reporting provisions. These are defined as "any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person's will; or not forcibly or against the person's will where the victim is incapable of giving consent." This includes forcible rape, of both females and males; forcible sodomy; sexual assault with an object; and forcible fondling.
Off-Campus Harassment Also Covered in Guidance
The harassing conduct may occur in any setting related to a school's programs, including off-campus activities such as field trips or athletic events. While it may fall outside a school law enforcement agency's jurisdiction, institutions may also have an obligation to respond to harassment. This is especially true when it rises to the level of sexual violence that originally happened off campus or outside an educational program if a student experiences "the continuing effects of off-campus sexual harassment" in an educational setting.