(April 28, 2014) – Tonight the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault released its first report on ending campus sexual violence. We are grateful for the Task Force’s tireless work and commitment to improving federal enforcement of Title IX, the 40-year-old landmark civil rights legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Less than a year ago we launched our ED ACT NOW campaign with a protest outside the Department of Education (ED). We hoped to spark a conversation about better federal enforcement of Title IX and bring our policy recommendations, based on the experiences of student survivors across the country, to the Administration. Today we are encouraged to see many of our demands at the heart of the Task Force’s report.
We are particularly encouraged by the Task Force’s commitment to transparency, which we have demanded repeatedly since our first action. We hope that improved access to information about previous and ongoing Title IX investigations will provide students and their families with much-needed insight into universities’ track records on sexual violence and will allow the public to hold both schools and ED accountable. We note, however, that to promote true transparency, ED must make the list of schools under investigation available publicly rather than solely upon request, as the Task Force now requires. We are also glad to see our recommendation that the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Department of Justice, and Federal Student Aid Office coordinate their efforts to ensure effective investigations.
Still, these changes will mean little until Title IX enforcement is finally given teeth. It is unconscionable that, in ED’s entire history, the agency has never once sanctioned a school for sexual violence-related violations of Title IX. Such tolerance allows institutional abuses to go unchecked at students’ expense. We hope that legislators will step in to fill this gap in the Task Force’s recommendations by providing the OCR with new tools to hold schools accountable and protect students’ civil rights. For example, we ask Congress to empower the OCR to levy intermediate fines for Title IX violations. Currently the OCR has only two options at its disposal: revoke all federal funding — which would be devastating for students, particularly those dependent upon federal financial aid — or do nothing at all. Intermediate sanctions would allow the OCR to hold schools accountable without hurting students in the process.
We have seen the movement against campus sexual violence make great strides in this last year, and are so grateful to the many tireless students, advocates, organizations, and government officials who have joined us in this fight. There is still much to be done but today we are one significant step closer to realizing the promise of Title IX: equality in education for people of all genders.