As the latest graduation season came and went this past spring, the traditional mortarboards worn by graduates were adorned with a new addition—bright red tape spelling “IX.” Simultaneously referencing the gender-equity provision Title IX and red-tape bureaucracy, students from Brown, Stanford and many schools in between came together in repeating a rallying cry: “Red tape won’t cover up rape.”
The refrain and accompanying red-tape tactic were originally used at Columbia University in 1999 and 2000, when a group of twenty-three students took federal action against their school for what they viewed as a systematic failing to support survivors of sexual assault. In addition to their federal complaint, activists plastered the names of accused rapists in bathroom stalls across campus and tried to stage a protest at an event for prospective students, which was promptly shut down.
Despite the decade that has passed since the original Columbia protests, one in five women are still sexually assaulted while in college, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In response to the campus sexual assault epidemic, which President Obama deemed an affront to decency and humanity, the Obama administration formed the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in January, with a comprehensive report titled “Not Alone.” It has four main goals: to identify the scope of campus sexual assault; to help prevent sexual assault; to ensure that schools are responding effectively when sexual assault does happen; and to enhance federal enforcement efforts.
Vice President Joe Biden recently explained the need for increased involvement from the White House and told Time: “If you knew your son had a 20 percent chance of being held up at gunpoint, you’d think twice before dropping your kid off. Well, my God, you drop a daughter off, it’s one in five she could be raped or physically abused? It is just outrageous.”
In 1990, the government began its first large-scale effort to address the college sexual assault epidemic by passing the Clery Act. The law, which is also known as the “Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act,” was passed by Congress after Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University, was raped and murdered in her college dormitory. It specifies procedures that colleges must follow regarding resources and treatment of sexual assault survivors. A student who believes his or her school has violated the provisions set forth by the Clery Act can file a report anonymously to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Unlike the Clery Act, however, complainants of Title IX cannot maintain anonymity. Title IX is a more recent addition to the toolkit students can use against their schools if they believe it to be mishandling claims of sexual assault. Under the Obama administration, the muscle behind Title IX’s application to sexual violence has been strengthened. What was once known primarily for its part in reducing gender inequality in college sports is now being used to combat sexual violence on college campuses.