Clery Act Complaints
Under the federal Clery Act, victims can file a federal complaint against their university if any of the following rights are violated:
- Schools are required to create proactive prevention education programs on healthy relationships, sexuality, consent, and bystander intervention.
- Both the accuser and the accused must have equal opportunities to have others present at disciplinary hearings or procedures.
- Schools are required to detail each type of disciplinary proceeding used by the institution, including the decision-making process, anticipated timelines, and processes determining the proceeding types used.
- Both the victim and perpetrator must be informed simultaneously and in writing of the outcome of the proceeding and hearings, appeal procedures, and any change to the result before and when it becomes final.
- School officials who conduct proceedings must be trained on how to do so in a manner that “protects the safety of victims” and “promotes accountability.”
- Survivors must be notified of counseling services as well as their housing, academic, and reporting options.
Successful Title IX Complaints
Anyone, whether or not they are a survivor of sexual assault, may file a Title IX complaint against a school that has failed to comply with the law. Complaints may be filed with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) within 180 days, which will launch an investigation and may lead OCR to enter into an agreement with a school to address violations if any are found. Schools may also lose federal funds, though no institution has ever faced this penalty. Title IX complaints are filed online or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and are confidential. To learn more, visit knowyourix.org.
Between 2009 and 2014, the number of Title IX complaints related to sexual violence at colleges and universities increased by more than 1000%. This increase, together with a lack of appropriate resources, has contributed to severe delays in the resolution of complaints. The average duration of a sexual violence investigation in 2015 was more than 2 years. Under Secretary DeVos’ leadership, the current Department of Education has not signaled that it will make protection of survivors a priority.
If you are a survivor, Title IX also allows you (or your parents, if you’re under 18) to file a private lawsuit in federal court for money damages or to change your school’s discriminatory policies with or without filing an OCR complaint. In 2014, the University of Connecticut settled a Title IX lawsuit brought by five survivors for $1.28 million dollars. Although not part of the settlement, UConn also created a Special Victims Unit within campus police and appointed a Dean for Victim Support Services. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, two women received a $2.85 million settlement after a Title IX suit. As part of the settlement, the university agreed to implement policy changes. In the wake of the lawsuit, several staff members and administrators were forced to resign, including the President and Chancellor.
Keep these key points in mind to inform the work you’re doing on campus before planning any action or event:
- Center survivors experiences and work to ensure all actions are trauma-informed. While everyone should join the fight against sexual violence, be intentional about amplifying the voices of survivors. Keep in mind the needs of survivors when organizing to ensure that the action represents a safe space for survivors to advocate on their own behalf.
- Identify specific needs and gaps on your campus. Each campus has different challenges and gaps in providing critical resources. When organizing, your campaign should meet specific survivor-driven and student-driven needs. Examples of specific demands include: providing free and accessible Plan B in campus health centers for survivors, expanding staff resources for transgender and non-binary survivors, improving the quality of consent education offered, and demanding that Title IX processes be made clear, transparent, and easily accessible for all survivors to navigate.
- Understand the barriers women of color face when reporting sexual assault. There is often a lack of trust in reporting structures from people of color due to lack of support, finances, and/or resources; language or cultural barriers; and racism. A 2007 study found that college students perceived a black victim of sexual assault to be less believable and more responsible for her assault than a white victim. Marginalized groups with less access to resources historically are more vulnerable to sexual assault, and violent histories of police brutality, insufficient and neglectful healthcare, and institutional racism are barriers to reporting sexual assault, as they weaken trust in the system for many women of color.
- Prioritize the experiences and needs of queer, trans, and nonbinary survivors. Sexual violence disproportionately impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual, and TGQN students, yet frequently these voices are erased from conversations about gender-based violence. The Association of American Universities found in a 2015 study that 29.5% of respondents identifying as TGQN reported having been sexually assaulted while on campus. In this same study, 25.3% of all bisexual students surveyed reported experiencing sexual assault on campus, as well as 13.7% of gay and lesbian students and 18.6% of students identifying as asexual, questioning, or another sexual identity not listed.
Hold Your Administrators and Legislators Accountable
- Host an Advocacy Day. By engaging with administrators and Title IX coordinators, your group can advocate for policy changes related to sexual violence or thank them for continuing existing policies. This helps create awareness, increase institutional transparency, grow student involvement, and foster a working relationship with administrators. An advocacy day can help identify decision makers and potential partners on campus. Kick off your Advocacy Day with a training and strategy session where group members discuss main asks and talking points.
- Petition/letter drops. After identifying the needs and gaps on your campus, craft specific asks or demands that you would like to see your university fulfill. Create a petition outlining these asks and circulate throughout campus. Effective forms of outreach include creating a public Facebook event and sending mass invitations, asking allied groups to amplify the petition and sign on, and tabling in the student union. After garnering widespread public support and tangible signatures, deliver the petition to your administration.
- Involve alumni. Alumni often hold power due to the potential financial benefits they offer the institution. Reach out to supportive alumni and ask them to mobilize their networks. Following the Department of Education’s rescission of Obama-era guidance that clarified critical survivor protections, many schools organized their alumni networks to write open letters urging administrators to prioritize survivor needs.
Build Education and Awareness
- Host a demonstration. Students all over the world participate in public demonstrations and national days of action to share stories, make a statement, represent the burden of violence, and raise campus awareness. Some demonstrations include:
- Take Back the Night is an international event that began in the 1970’s with the mission of ending sexual, relationship, and domestic violence in all forms. Student groups host TBTN events to raise awareness about sexual violence by inviting participants to organize rallies, marches, and vigils around campus in large numbers – thus reclaiming the community as their own.
- On Denim Day, people are encouraged to wear jeans to raise awareness. When a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because the survivor had worn tight jeans, women in the Parliament came to work the next day in jeans to show solidarity. Since then, Denim Day has grown into an international movement protesting against inaccurate and destructive attitudes about assault.
- Offer educational programs. The Campus SaVE Act requires colleges and universities to provide comprehensive sexual assault and dating violence prevention education for all students, staff, and faculty. Find out which department or official is developing the prevention education program and advocate for student involvement in the process through student committees, focus groups, or anonymous surveys. Create coalitions with campus groups, student government, Greek Life, and professors to push for in-person training with Q&A. Push to improve the sustainability of educational programs. Consent education programs often take place during the first-year orientation, never to be revisited again. Thinking about continuity and sustainable programming throughout the first and second year is critical in making sure education doesn’t get lost in the rest of orientation.
- Student-led trainings. While institution-led programming is critical for reaching all students, staff, and faculty members, peer-led trainings are more effective at engaging students on a continuous basis. Your group can work with Title IX and violence-prevention specialists to begin a peer education training initiative. Peer leaders can educate members of campus clubs, Greek Life, sports teams, and individual residential halls.
Involve the Media
Student activist groups can successfully use both school and local media outlets as a strategic method of furthering their agenda and to raise public awareness of an issue or current event.
- Practice how to give a sound bite. Being able to clearly express your group’s story—including the issue, the impact, and the solution—is an essential part of garnering attention, mobilizing action, communicating importance, winning people to your cause, and engaging with the media. Practice shortening your pitch to several sentences and remember to highlight exactly what your feminist group is working to accomplish. This will be especially helpful if your group is ever giving
an interview or quote.
- Write an op-ed for your school newspaper. Your group can help garner campus attention by publishing a piece in your student newspaper emphasizing survivor-centered needs and holding your institution accountable. Many feminist groups have found success writing collective op-eds in collaboration with other groups on campus, or asking them to sign on in solidarity.
- Flood your local newspaper with letters to the editor. Letters to the Editor are often selected for publishing based on volume and amount of support for an issue, so mobilizing a group of students to send as many as possible is an effective organizing tool. Ask members of your group (as well as other allies!) to write a short letter (1-2 paragraphs) emphasizing the importance of advocating for survivor’s rights. This can be an effective way of building new coalition partners and showcasing how far-reaching an issue or problem can be.
Social Media Campaigns
Campus groups across the country have launched successful online campaigns to raise awareness. In all social media efforts, be mindful of including content warnings.
- Coordinate a campus-wide Photo Campaign. Show solidarity and share why supporting survivors is crucial. Your feminist group should blast the campaign on social media to raise campus awareness on an issue. For example, Project Unbreakable is a photo campaign of survivors holding signs quoting their attackers.
- Hold a Tweetstorm. Pick a specific time and ask all of your members and allies to flood their social media accounts with survivor stories, statistics, and solutions. Make sure the Social Media or Communications Chair engages with hashtags, GIFs, and content from partner organizations to garner more visibility!
Clarify Campus Reporting Procedures and Resources Offered to Students
In order to help students, Title IX processes should be clear, transparent, and easily accessible for all survivors to navigate. Clarifying the reporting procedures and emphasizing available resources serves to remove barriers of confusion or lack of information. Reach out to help students know their resources by:
- Creating an infographic
- Flyering dorms
- Disseminating information through social media
- Visiting first-year student floor meetings to present
- Creating a comprehensive web platform that centralizes resources and provides quick and easy to understand information