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Opinion: Changes to Title IX policies will make students less likely to report sexual assault

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Title IX Office

The OU Sexual Misconduct Office and Institutional Equity and Title IX Office pictured Jan. 30, 2017.

Editor's note: This column discusses sexual assault.

As a college student — one who has been sexually assaulted, nonetheless — it is disturbing to me that Title IX and the way we prosecute sexual assault cases could be changed in favor of the accused. Yes, people stigmatize those accused of sexual assault and don’t treat them the same way after their verdict as they did before, guilty or not, but people also question the victim and often make them feel as though they “asked for it” when, in reality, no one "asks" to be sexually abused. That’s just life, and changing policies will not modify the way the world sees the accused.

I hesitated to tell people about my assault at first because I felt too guilty — I felt like I would ruin his life, like it wasn’t serious enough to report — but one year later, I realized that that boy ravaged my peace of mind for a long time. He took something so great and precious from me that day, and as hard as I try, I can never forget. I am lucky my assault wasn’t as violent as many others’, but it’s disappointing that I have to be thankful for that. What a world we live in to hear someone be grateful they were not more sexually violated. I was not under any influence that night, I was wearing sweatpants (in case you were wondering) and I explicitly said no, but it still happened.

As a generally compassionate person, I understand it must be very distressing to be charged with or accused of sexual assault, especially if untrue. However, very few cases reported are actually proven false. In fact, many victims do not report their encounters at all because of fear of judgment within our community. About 80 percent of sexual assault cases in college go unreported each year. 

It’s difficult to hear that policies could change to make it more difficult for victims to bring their cases to light. As of now, schools use a “preponderance of evidence” standard, but the changes being made make schools use a “clear and convincing evidence” standard. The former policy dictated that more than 50 percent of the evidence had to point to one conclusion, and the new standard is much harder to prove for victims. Rape kits are usually paid for through federal funding, but these tests are hours-long and traumatizing. For victims who are already blamed and disbelieved, a new policy that puts less faith in them would only deter them from sharing their experiences at all. New policies could rule in favor of the accused and lessen the number of reported cases immensely.

Title IX protects students from a hostile environment on their own campus, and I don’t believe that is too harsh. According to Title IX on Campus, “Title IX does not require a school to report incidents of sexual violence to law enforcement. However, schools may be required to report to law enforcement under other local, state or federal law.” I think OU has one of the best Title IX offices in the country, and they take sexual misconduct very seriously, but there are many schools that do not pursue these cases as diligently as our university.

Eventually, when I did reach out to tell very close friends, some didn’t believe me. They thought it was my fault, and I often felt like no one was in my corner. This is why victims don’t tell others about their assault experience. Changing the policy and making it harder for the assaulted to come forward mitigates their experiences. There is a lot of discussion about the “fairness” of the new reforms to the accused, but when has the system ever been "fair," and why does it matter now? Was the system "fair" when Brock Turner assaulted an unconscious woman and only served a few months? The trial seemed like more than enough evidence to convict someone and have them pay the consequences for their actions.

Whichever route the victim takes — staying silent or being brave enough to report — they are forced to relive their trauma. Every day, I have thought about what I lost. If I had reported, I would have to go through tests, testimonials and hearings to reach and achieve "justice" — but that is hardly justice. The accused person deserves to be innocent until proven guilty, but the victim deserves to live without re-experiencing their trauma after being assaulted. If someone is worried about potentially being accused of sexual misconduct, they should review the definition of consent.


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