Want to Change Rape Culture? Address It in K-12 Schools

Proposed increases in Title IX and Clery fines won’t address sexual assault in elementary and secondary schools, and they could hurt community college students.

Last week, bipartisan legislation was proposed to increase Clery fines to $150,000 and Title IX fines to 1% of a higher education institution’s operating budget. This move should serve as a wake-up call for any U.S. college or university that hasn’t already figured out that the improper handling of sexual assaults could result in major negative financial consequences for their campuses.

But what are our government representatives and civil servants doing to address sexual assault in K-12 districts, specifically high schools? Not much when compared with higher ed. Despite there being many more K-12 schools in our country with many more students attending them (only 66% of high school graduates actually go to college), the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is only investigating 23 elementary and secondary schools for possible violations of its Title IX sexual violence guidelines. By contrast, OCR is investigating 64 colleges and universities. Additionally, the bipartisan legislation I mentioned above only applies to higher ed, not K-12 campuses.

What’s even more concerning is high schools seem to being doing a much worse job of handling rapes and complying with Title IX than their university brethren, according to a recent Al Jazeera article. Combined with the fact that a significant portion of college rapists show their proclivity for sexual assault long before they go to college, it makes sense for OCR to focus greater attention on K-12 schools so they can reach more people and nip the problem in the bud. Only then will OCR have a significant impact on the rape culture so prevalent in our country.

Of course, I can understand why OCR is focusing on higher ed. Compared to K-12 districts, colleges and universities generally are more concerned with public relations and branding. They also usually have more money than school districts, although public institutions, and especially community colleges, have extremely tight budgets, particularly since the 2008 Great Recession.

This begs the question: are huge fines, like the ones proposed for Title IX non-compliance, really the best approach to encouraging campuses to appropriately address sexual assault? Perhaps for wealthy institutions that have many donors and endowments. However, for public institutions and especially community colleges that are struggling financially, fining institutions 1% of their operating budgets could put them out of business and leave our nation’s most needy students without an affordable way to attend college. Huge fines for K-12 districts could have even more disastrous consequences.

I’m torn on this. On one hand, I know that many of your administrators and their legal counsel don’t understand the Clery Act or Title IX and, consequently, don’t heed your warnings about the importance of compliance with these laws. The possibility of huge fines might be the only way to get their attention.

At the same time, for budget-strapped public universities and community colleges, the Title IX fines that have been proposed could hurt the very students they are intended to protect. Additionally, fines on universities will do nothing to address sexual assault in high schools and middle schools.

I’m stumped on how we should proceed. What do you think is the best approach to addressing rape culture on our campuses and in our society as a whole? Send me your comments at rhattersley@ehpub.com.

Photo via ThinkStock

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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