The Limitations of Title IX In Practice
By Ella Causer | | April 27, 2018 @ 9:31 pm
It’s consent month at Oberlin College. There are signs in the bathrooms detailing the four requirements for consent. There are contests. There are free Frisbees. But there’s also a post in my Facebook feed from an Oberlin resident who was allegedly assaulted by an Oberlin student last fall: “In other news, Oberlin College and Oberlin Police Department are letting my rapist walk free. In their eyes fucking someone while they're passed out drunk in their own bed is considered okay.” The post has been shared 1,500 times.
Reporting on this or any case which has not and will not pass through a court of law carries a whole host of legal repercussions. I use the term “alleged” in this article not because I do not believe the experience of the the survivor, but because the case was never brought to court by the Oberlin Police and was completed via an informal hearing by the Title IX office, therefore never convicting the responding party. I use the word “survivor” out of respect for the party harmed by sexualized violence. Not all individuals who have been harmed by sexualized violence identify as survivors, however, as I was unable to speak to said individual to determine their preference, I decided to use this term in the article because it is the most popular and accepted terminology at present. It is also important to note that the only information used to write about this specific case is from social media, administrators, and students.
In a legal system where a fundamental principle is a presumption of innocence, where a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, the Oberlin Title IX Office is generally a more effective source of justice than the courts, as it strives to focus on both sides’ claims with an ear to what the reporting party needs in order to feel validated by the process. In state or federal courts, the reporting party is usually at the disadvantage of having to defend all claims with physical evidence or witnesses, and in most cases of sexualized violence, there may not be either. While the College’s Title IX procedures can provide the advantages stated above, this case proved that it gets tricky when the survivor isn’t an Oberlin student, staff, or faculty member.
I wanted to understand the policy for reporting sexual assault through Oberlin as a non-student, so I met with Rebecca Mosely, Oberlin’s Title IX coordinator in the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Mosely outlined the general Title IX process for responding to sexual assault. She explained that the procedure is reminiscent of restorative justice procedures, with a focus on equity between the reporting and responding parties and involvement from both sides to reach mediation and, if desired and with enough evidence, a formal hearing. In all cases, a hearing coordinator is appointed to serve as the person of contact during the process. The hearing coordinator, broadly, is the person who moves the hearing towards resolution and/or oversees the hearing panel. In most cases, the hearing coordinator is Assistant Dean of Students, Thom Julian.
Title IX is a federal civil right law, limited in scope to educational institutions which receive federal funding, and is legally defined that the position of the reporting party extends only to students, staff, and faculty. Community members aren’t able to serve as the reporting party in Title IX procedures, but when the college is aware of potential harm perpetrated by one of their students, they are legally obligated to file as the reporting party. “In the case [of the college filing as the reporting party],” Rebecca Mosely of Title IX said, “the college is 100% advocating for the safety of the college community and is trying to be sensitive as much as we can to the needs of that person (the survivor of sexual assault)...we would try to connect them to the resources that are available to them (in the Oberlin community.)”
When a community member reports harm to the Title IX office, the community member is only able to serve as a witness for the case. The college serves as the reporting party and the perpetrator the responding party. In cases where there is little evidence, the two parties may decide to file an informal hearing. Deciding whether a formal or informal case will be completed is at the discretion of the reporting and responding parties only, meaning the witness (survivor of sexual assault) has no say. In the case that the parties decide to complete an informal hearing, witnesses are never contacted. The informal hearing is confidential and only the reporting and responding parties have access to the outcome. The community member does not have autonomy in the proceedings or outcome of the case.
When asked why the reporting rights policy doesn’t extend to Oberlin residents, even when reporting against an Oberlin student, Mosely of Title IX states that as an institution, “you’re responsible for your college and what happens within your college.” If the Oberlin Title IX policy were to be amended, it wouldn’t be able to encompass the degree of specificity required to protect college-aged Oberlin residents, and instead would extend to a caseload magnitude which the Title IX office would not be able to handle with its current staff. “The college cannot become the source of resolution for the entire community,” says Mosely, but when a college-aged survivor is denied information as a result of national policy, hearts cry for change.
The survivor continues to fight for justice, and has created a gofundme. The fundraiser is accompanied with the following: “I wasn't able to be a witness to my own assault. Two other people have come to me regarding their assault from the same person. I want justice, from the rapist and the college, so I'm looking to raise money for legal counseling. Any donations can help me achieve this. Thank you.”
Oberlin College students have contacted the alleged abuser’s place of work about the assault only to receive a cease and desist (stop harassment letter) in response.
Contact production editor Ella Causer at firstname.lastname@example.org.