As the CEO at Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, an affiliate of Girls Inc., the national nonprofit that inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, I see firsthand how sexual harassment and violence impact many of the 1,500 girls our affiliate serves each year.
At Girls Inc. we empower girls to give voice to their experiences and to advocate for themselves and for others. Despite 7 in 10 girls experiencing sexual harassment before they leave high school, the Department of Education’s proposed changes send a clear message that these lived experiences are not worthy of acknowledgement and will not be not taken seriously.
Our Girls Inc. affiliate is particularly concerned about three of the proposed changes and how these will impact the girls we serve:
- Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment. Requiring schools to ignore harassment claims by students until the conduct is so severe and pervasive that it harms a student’s ability to benefit from their education is detrimental. By allowing the conduct to continue to this point, a student has likely already experienced harmful disruptions to their education.
- The proposed shift away from the Clear and Convincing Evidence standard toward the Preponderance of the Evidence standard, with DOE guidance of a presumption of innocence. This shift is intended to further discourage survivors from reporting. It is also intended to fuel stereotypes that sexual assault survivors are lying. Both create the consequence of further marginalizing girls and young women.
- Cutting back on schools’ obligations to investigate sexual harassment. Reversing decades of precedent by narrowing a school’s obligation to only investigate claims related to conduct on campus or during a school activity leaves unchecked sexual harassment experienced while walking to or from school, and online after school. The school would be justified in ignoring dangerous behavior that involves students simply because of the time of day when the harassment or violence occurs.
If adopted, these rules would leave students – particularly girls and young women – unprotected from the harassment and violence that we know is occurring each day in schools. Survivors are left to suffer the consequences of sexual harassment and violence, largely unsupported and without justice or dignity. Girls have the right to an equal education and to feel safe at school; not feeling safe disrupts a girl’s ability to learn and persist with her education. When her education is at risk, her future as a healthy, educated, and independent woman is also at risk. For the foregoing reasons, the NPRM should be withdrawn.
If adopted, these rules would leave students – particularly girls and young women – unprotected from the harassment and violence that we know is occurring each day in schools…Girls have the right to an equal education and to feel safe at school; not feeling safe disrupts a girl’s ability to learn and persist with her education. When her education is at risk, her future as a healthy, educated, and independent woman is also at risk.
This blog post is an excerpt from Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara’s official public comment to the U.S. Department of Education on ED-2018-OCR-0064 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance. Follow the conversation #HandsOffIX, #GirlsToo