«April 4, 2011 Dear Colleague: Education has long been recognized as the great equalizer in America. The U.S. Department of Education and its Office ...»
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY
April 4, 2011
Education has long been recognized as the great equalizer in America. The U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) believe that providing all students with an educational environment free from discrimination is extremely important. The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq., and its implementing regulations, 34 C.F.R. Part 106, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. In order to assist recipients, which include school districts, colleges, and universities (hereinafter “schools” or “recipients”) in meeting these obligations, this letter 1 explains that the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence.2 Sexual violence, as that term is used in this letter, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the victim’s use of drugs or alcohol. An individual also may be unable to give consent due to an intellectual or other disability. A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape, The Department has determined that this Dear Colleague Letter is a “significant guidance document” under the Office of Management and Budget’s Final Bulletin for Agency Good Guidance Practices, 72 Fed. Reg. 3432 (Jan.
25, 2007), available at:
OCR issues this and other policy guidance to provide recipients with information to assist them in meeting their obligations, and to provide members of the public with information about their rights, under the civil rights laws and implementing regulations that we enforce. OCR’s legal authority is based on those laws and regulations. This letter does not add requirements to applicable law, but provides information and examples to inform recipients about how OCR evaluates whether covered entities are complying with their legal obligations. If you are interested in commenting on this guidance, please send an e-mail with your comments to OCR@ed.gov, or write to us at the following address: Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202.
Use of the term “sexual harassment” throughout this document includes sexual violence unless otherwise noted.
Sexual harassment also may violate Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000c), which prohibits public school districts and colleges from discriminating against students on the basis of sex, among other bases.
The U.S. Department of Justice enforces Title IV.
The Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.
Page 2 – Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Violence sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion. All such acts of sexual violence are forms of sexual harassment covered under Title IX.
The statistics on sexual violence are both deeply troubling and a call to action for the nation. A report prepared for the National Institute of Justice found that about 1 in 5 women are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault while in college.3 The report also found that approximately 6.1 percent of males were victims of completed or attempted sexual assault during college.4 According to data collected under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), 20 U.S.C. § 1092(f), in 2009, college campuses reported nearly 3,300 forcible sex offenses as defined by the Clery Act. 5 This problem is not limited to college. During the 2007-2008 school year, there were 800 reported incidents of rape and attempted rape and 3,800 reported incidents of other sexual batteries at public high schools. 6 Additionally, the likelihood that a woman with intellectual disabilities will be sexually assaulted is estimated to be significantly higher than the general population.7 The Department is deeply concerned about this problem and is committed to ensuring that all students feel safe in their school, so that they have the opportunity to benefit fully from the school’s programs and activities.
This letter begins with a discussion of Title IX’s requirements related to student-on-student sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and explains schools’ responsibility to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence. These requirements are discussed in detail in OCR’s Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance issued in 2001 (2001 Guidance). 8 This letter supplements the 2001 Guidance by providing additional guidance and practical examples regarding the Title IX requirements as they relate to sexual violence. This letter concludes by discussing the proactive efforts schools can take to prevent sexual harassment and violence, and by providing examples of remedies that schools and OCR may use to end such conduct, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. Although some examples contained in this letter are applicable only in the postsecondary context, sexual CHRISTOPHER P. KREBS ET AL., THE CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT STUDY: FINAL REPORT xiii (Nat’l Criminal Justice Reference Serv., Oct. 2007), available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf. This study also found that the majority of campus sexual assaults occur when women are incapacitated, primarily by alcohol. Id. at xviii.
Id. at 5-5.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, Summary Crime Statistics (data compiled from reports submitted in compliance with the Clery Act), available at http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/criminal2007-09.pdf. Under the Clery Act, forcible sex offenses are defined as any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will, or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent. Forcible sex offenses include forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling. 34 C.F.R. Part 668, Subpt. D, App. A.
SIMONE ROBERS ET AL., INDICATORS OF SCHOOL CRIME AND SAFETY: 2010 at 104 (U.S. Dep’t of Educ. & U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Nov. 2010), available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011002.pdf.
ERIKA HARRELL & MICHAEL R. RAND, CRIME AGAINST PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, 2008 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Dec. 2010), available at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/capd08.pdf.
The 2001 Guidance is available on the Department’s Web site at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.pdf. This letter focuses on peer sexual harassment and violence. Schools’ obligations and the appropriate response to sexual harassment and violence committed by employees may be different from those described in this letter. Recipients should refer to the 2001 Guidance for further information about employee harassment of students.
Page 3 – Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Violence harassment and violence also are concerns for school districts. The Title IX obligations discussed in this letter apply equally to school districts unless otherwise noted.
Title IX Requirements Related to Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Schools’ Obligations to Respond to Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX. 9 As explained in OCR’s 2001 Guidance, when a student sexually harasses another student, the harassing conduct creates a hostile environment if the conduct is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s program. The more severe the conduct, the less need there is to show a repetitive series of incidents to prove a hostile environment, particularly if the harassment is physical. Indeed, a single or isolated incident of sexual harassment may create a hostile environment if the incident is sufficiently severe. For instance, a single instance of rape is sufficiently severe to create a hostile environment.10 Title IX protects students from sexual harassment in a school’s education programs and activities. This means that Title IX protects students in connection with all the academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs of the school, whether those programs take place in a school’s facilities, on a school bus, at a class or training program Title IX also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature. The Title IX obligations discussed in this letter also apply to gender-based harassment. Genderbased harassment is discussed in more detail in the 2001 Guidance, and in the 2010 Dear Colleague letter on Harassment and Bullying, which is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleaguepdf.
See, e.g., Jennings v. Univ. of N.C., 444 F.3d 255, 268, 274 n.12 (4th Cir. 2006) (acknowledging that while not an issue in this case, a single incident of sexual assault or rape could be sufficient to raise a jury question about whether a hostile environment exists, and noting that courts look to Title VII cases for guidance in analyzing Title IX sexual harassment claims); Vance v. Spencer Cnty. Pub. Sch. Dist., 231 F.3d 253, 259 n.4 (6th Cir. 2000) (“‘[w]ithin the context of Title IX, a student’s claim of hostile environment can arise from a single incident’” (quoting Doe v.
Sch. Admin. Dist. No. 19, 66 F. Supp. 2d 57, 62 (D. Me. 1999))); Soper v. Hoben, 195 F.3d 845, 855 (6th Cir. 1999) (explaining that rape and sexual abuse “obviously qualif[y] as…severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive sexual harassment”); see also Berry v. Chi. Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 692 (7th Cir. 2010) (in the Title VII context, “a single act can create a hostile environment if it is severe enough, and instances of uninvited physical contact with intimate parts of the body are among the most severe types of sexual harassment”); Turner v. Saloon, Ltd., 595 F.3d 679, 686 (7th Cir. 2010) (noting that “‘[o]ne instance of conduct that is sufficiently severe may be enough,’” which is “especially true when the touching is of an intimate body part” (quoting Jackson v. Cnty. of Racine, 474 F.3d 493, 499 (7th Cir. 2007))); McKinnis v. Crescent Guardian, Inc., 189 F. App’x 307, 310 (5th Cir. 2006) (holding that “‘the deliberate and unwanted touching of [a plaintiff’s] intimate body parts can constitute severe sexual harassment’” in Title VII cases (quoting Harvill v. Westward Commc’ns, L.L.C., 433 F.3d 428, 436 (5th Cir. 2005))).
Page 4 – Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Violence sponsored by the school at another location, or elsewhere. For example, Title IX protects a student who is sexually assaulted by a fellow student during a school-sponsored field trip.11 If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. 12 Schools also are required to publish a notice of nondiscrimination and to adopt and publish grievance procedures. Because of these requirements, which are discussed in greater detail in the following section, schools need to ensure that their employees are trained so that they know to report harassment to appropriate school officials, and so that employees with the authority to address harassment know how to respond properly. Training for employees should include practical information about how to identify and report sexual harassment and violence. OCR recommends that this training be provided to any employees likely to witness or receive reports of sexual harassment and violence, including teachers, school law enforcement unit employees, school administrators, school counselors, general counsels, health personnel, and resident advisors.
Schools may have an obligation to respond to student-on-student sexual harassment that initially occurred off school grounds, outside a school’s education program or activity. If a student files a complaint with the school, regardless of where the conduct occurred, the school must process the complaint in accordance with its established procedures. Because students often experience the continuing effects of off-campus sexual harassment in the educational setting, schools should consider the effects of the off-campus conduct when evaluating whether there is a hostile environment on campus. For example, if a student alleges that he or she was sexually assaulted by another student off school grounds, and that upon returning to school he or she was taunted and harassed by other students who are the alleged perpetrator’s friends, the school should take the earlier sexual assault into account in determining whether there is a sexually hostile environment. The school also should take steps to protect a student who was assaulted off campus from further sexual harassment or retaliation from the perpetrator and his or her associates.