Credit: File Photo | Mustang News

Grace Kitayama is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News. 

The Department of Education has enacted new Title IX regulations that aim to strengthen protections for survivors. They also define sexual harassment and sexual assault as unlawful sex discrimination. Yet, under the new regulations, schools dealing with reports of sexual assault must choose between two burdens of proof: if either there is clear, convincing evidence of an incident or there is likely more evidence than not (known as preponderance of the evidence).  The same standard will be applied to all cases. Thus, under this rule, simply reporting sexual misconduct is not necessarily enough to warrant an investigation into the harassment. 

Title IX is only the bare minimum for what public universities are required to enforce in terms of sexual assault. The Department states that universities can have their own standards in place for sexual assault as well.

“If the alleged conduct does not fall under Title IX, then a school may address the allegations under the school’s own code of conduct and provide supportive measures,” as written in the Title IX overview.

Due to the leniency of these new regulations, Cal Poly should have stricter sexual assault policies in addition to the Title IX regulations that hold those accused of assault accountable and stand with the victims.

A university only has to respond if  (1) the school has actual knowledge of sexual harassment; (2) the act occurred within the school’s education program or activity; (3) it occurred against a person in the United States according to the Department of Education. Under these guidelines, students aren’t protected if they are studying abroad or assaulted by non-university affiliated people.

The purpose of following through on sexual assault and holding the persecutor responsible goes beyond simply stopping more sexual assault. It is important to show that the university supports its members who are victims of sexual assault. Cal Poly defines sexual harassment as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature (sexual violence, sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, indecent exposure, and other verbal, nonverbal or physical unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature) that is so severe or pervasive as to interfere with or limit an individual’s ability to participate in or benefit from a University program.  Students who have experienced sexual harassment may experience trauma or feel unsafe on campus which can result in poor academic performance and thus, the university should investigate all harassment reports even if they do not fall within the narrow parameters laid out under the new Title IX regulations.

Lastly, these new regulations provide more protection to those accused of sexual assault by restricting schools from inflicting “longstanding harm” against those accused of sexual assault before adequate evidence has been provided. This ruling is in place supposedly because those accused are “innocent until proven guilty.” However, in any other crime, the accused party does face consequences such as being questioned and tried. Treating an accused party equally after being accused does not only invalidate the victim of sexual assault, but also potentially puts an entire campus student body in danger of a repeat attack after failing to treat the accused as a potential threat. 

College campuses are currently environments that are conducive to sexual assault and Cal Poly is no exception. Cal Poly’s annual Sexual Misconduct, Dating or Domestic Violence, and Stalking Reports shows that in 2019, there were 117 reports of sexual assault, but only eight of those reports were investigated and in only one case was the accused held responsible. Additionally, the annual crime statistics for Cal Poly show that between 2016 and 2018, 72 reports of sexual harassment were reported, yet no arrests were made. 

It is already difficult to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for their actions with the humiliation and blame that is so often unfairly placed on the victims of harassment. Cal Poly resources such as  SAFER and the counseling hotline also are not required to report an assault to the police, which means that there could be more sexual harassment that is occurring at Cal Poly that simply goes unreported. This is not to say that SAFER is not a crucial and important resource for students, but it further highlights the stigma that surrounds the sensitive issues of sexual assault—there is so much shame placed on the victims of sexual assault that does not happen for other victims of crimes, which can prevent people from coming forward. A victim should not have to fear persecution when coming forward with a crime, nor should they feel shame in being the victim of a crime.

Now with the new regulations making it even harder for victims to come forward with about their assaults, Cal Poly should show support for their students by making it as easy as possible for students to report sexual assault and side with the accusers.

Cal Poly’s Sexual Assault Resources.

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