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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Title IX does us a disservice

I am a rape survivor and Title IX makes me feel unsafe

Title IX of the 1972 Education Act states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” On every college campus that receives federal funding, this means there are Title IX offices and accompanying policies and procedures for handling campus sexual discrimination, harassment and violence.

Title IX is an attempt at the federal level to keep our academic communities accountable for sexual misconduct. But from personal experience, I say we are entirely too proud of ourselves for this law. I do not feel protected by Title IX. There are facts concerning rape that overlap with postsecondary academic institutions that are detrimentally unclear and harm the survivor.

First, any university employee who becomes aware of an incident of sexual misconduct involving a student is obligated to report it, regardless of the student’s wishes. This cuts students in crisis off from important sources of guidance and support exactly when they need it the most. They need emotional support from the people in our academic community who know them best — faculty or staff, such as professors, advisors, employers or coworkers — not solely advice from trained professionals. After my own rape by another student during my first year at UC Davis, there were faculty and staff I was desperate to talk to and couldn’t because of Title IX, but finally broke down and did anyways. I was then contacted by the Title IX office.

The second reason concerns precisely why a survivor would not want their rape reported to Title IX in the first case. What is not made clear on any website is that once Title IX is made aware of any sexual misconduct, the survivor loses all control over whether there’s an investigation. In my case, after taking advantage of the free legal counsel available to all UC Davis undergraduates, I decided not to press charges against my rapist — criminally or through Title IX. This was happening just as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick were being torn apart by the conservative right over bringing sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, a Supreme Court nominee at the time.

After meticulously going over the details of what had been done to me, I was told that I had very little chance of winning a case given my circumstances. Ultimately, I decided putting myself through the extreme and traumatizing stressors of an investigation would not be worth it. Title IX would take this decision away from me, exposing me to the kind of derision women in our society experience when publicly confronting their rapists. We have seen this in the Kavanaugh case, and I have lived it in speaking up about my experience in my own community. I chose not to pursue an investigation, and I desperately wish to see that respected. Anyone else in my position deserves that same right.

The third reason is a specific point of violation in the reporting process. Like every website of post secondary education, the UC Davis website user interface is often not user friendly. While researching what to do after being raped, I encountered a convenient link to file a report with the school many times before I could find detailed information about what would happen after reporting. Even then, the information was unclear.   

The most thorough source was very reassuring, using words like “appropriate, supportive, preventive, and corrective measures,” and phrases such as “very seriously,” “highest priorities” and “interim protections or accommodations.” I was told I would be provided with, “confidential emotional support” and that “necessary measures will continue to be taken to ensure that [I felt] safe.” So I was shocked that it took 1,000 words for this UC Davis sexual violence resource to inform me, in the fourth-to-last paragraph, that in an investigation “your name will probably appear in the notification letter sent to the accused by the Title IX Officer.”

The “probably” does not make me feel any better. My rapist does not know my full name, and I am in possession of an email from our UC Davis Title IX officer that says if they ever get ahold of his name, it is fully within their jurisdiction to open an investigation and potentially give my name to him. I find this to be viscerally horrifying.

The final problem with Title IX is the lack of repercussions. Title IX is a federal law without federal reach. I spoke incredulously about this with the head of the UC Davis Family Protection and Legal Assistance Clinic. Title IX benefits the survivor in that the burden of proof is less than that of a criminal investigation. That is, it is easier to get a conviction. The consequences for raping another human being, however, are minimal. Title IX benefits the survivor in that is physically removes their rapist from their lives, which is critical, but this action falls tragically short in the larger scheme of things.

We are patting ourselves on the back inappropriately if we think we are actually keeping people safe. We aren’t.

If a student, for example, is found guilty of rape and forced to leave, there is nothing noted on any kind of permanent record to prevent them from immediately reapplying to another school. Going through the rigors of Title IX proceedings at Davis may ultimately protect students at Davis, maybe at other UCs, but if a rapist is found guilty, they are not prevented from preying upon students elsewhere.

Instead of going straight to a Title IX report, from my experience, the best resource for a survivor at UC Davis is the Center for Advocacy, Resource and Education (CARE). To make an appointment, call 530-752-3299 (Davis campus) or 916-734-3799 (UC Davis Health – Sacramento) or email ucdcare@ucdavis.edu. Same day appointments are often available.

Title IX cut me off from my most important sources of support, misled me, would have potentially disclosed my identity to the man who raped me and threatened to take away my autonomy. Title IX subverts the entire point of pressing charges in the first place: to ensure my rapist’s next victim never becomes a victim in the first place.

Written by: Lauren Frausto — lrfrausto@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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