Monday, December 30, 2013

Title IX Complaint Contests Carnegie Mellon's Response to Sexual Assault

The ACLU has filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education on behalf of a student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who alleges that the university did not adequately respond after she reported that she had been sexually assaulted by her abusive ex-girlfriend.  Allegations in the complaint, available here, suggest that the campus police did not take seriously the threat to the victim's safety when they disclosed to the the accused student the details of the victim's accusation without notifying the victim or protecting her from retaliation.  The complaint also charges that the university failed to adequately discipline the accused student, whom they found responsible for violating the university's policy on sexual assault.  Rather, the university's only response was to implement a "no-contact order" that created a mutual obligation on both parties to avoid the other.  Despite the order, however, the offending student was allowed to take classes with the victim and continue to live across the hall, which enabled her to harass and intimidate the victim.  Ultimately, the victim had to move out of her apartment and switch her classes.  The ACLU argues that such a response violates Title IX because it failed to protect the victim from ongoing harassment, and placed the burden on her to avoid future harm.

While this case may be unique among recent campus sexual assault cases in that the victim and the offending student are both female, this fact does not put this case on any different legal footing.  Sexual violence targets the victim because of sex, regardless of whether the offender is of the same or different sex.  The university therefore has the same obligation as those in other cases to "eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects," and that is the standard OCR will use to evaluate Carnegie Mellon's compliance with Title IX.