July 3, 2020

Advocacy Within and Without Title IX

Becca Getson, OAESV Legal Advocate

Title IX regulations have been released. Like proverbial hounds released after a long wait. On May 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education released codified rules, altering and amending the ways institutions respond to cases of sex discrimination. As of June 23, 2020, Title IX is now 48 years old. A one sentence law that has spurred tens of thousands of documents, pages, hours, rules, regulations, guidance, hearings, policies, and procedures. Throughout these nearly five decades, institutions have needed to confront sex discrimination within their organizations, to varying degrees of success. Throughout these nearly five decades, Title IX has been enacted, ignored, fought over, struggled with, regulated, guided, and codified. Interpretations vary, court rules alter and define aspects, policies change and update. Yet one constant must remain: advocacy.

Advocates are here for survivors.

Regardless of what and how the Title IX Regulations guide institutions, we must continue to be advocates. Even as advocates we differ throughout the sexual violence movement, whether we are prosecutor, campus, community, shelter, or other type of advocate, we must remember and keep survivors at the forefront of this work. Whether used as a tool or an obstacle, Title IX is yet one more issue that a survivor must face.

Every survivor is different. What is the goal of this survivor? What do they need? Are they looking for the school to take action? Do they want the perpetrator to not come around them? What do their family/parents/caregivers/guardians want? Is this different than the survivor’s wants? Can Title IX do any of this? Is it safe for the survivor?

Title IX may help a survivor find something, and it may not. Reporting, investigating or accessing proceedings can by harmful not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically. Survivors identifying as Black, Indigenous, or as people of color historically don’t find justice within institutionalized systems. As an advocate we must know, acknowledge and assist the survivor in their choices. We must work in their comfort zone, not our own.

If a survivor chooses, or must use, a Title IX process we must strive to advocate within and without the system. Advocate for survivor rights, survivor-centered approaches, and trauma-informed process before a survivor needs to use the system. Create a team to approach the Title IX case. Creating a team will not only assist you but also the survivor. The team can vary but at its core should be the survivor, an advocate, and an advisor (preferably an attorney). If there is more than one advocate working with the survivor, they should be a part of this core team as well. Campus and community based advocates are both wealths of information and may have access to different information, resources, and support. Be sure to know the roles within the team.

Advocates must also recognize that these institutionalized systems can do harm and the survivor may not find justice or support within these systems. Advocates must provide support without the systems as well and prepare and plan outstanding Title IX. After nearly five decades of Title IX, it can be easy to be distracted and focused on these seemingly ever changing rules and policies and guidance, but, as advocates, we cannot lose sight of our priority: survivors.