This article was originally published in The Progressive.


What Does the #MeToo Movement Mean for Schools After the Rollback of Title IX?

An historic avalanche of sexual assault allegations, fueled by the growing online #MeToo movement, are toppling influential men across the U.S. workforce. Last week another powerful man accused of sexual assault by multiple women met his comeuppance when Alabama Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore lost a key election he had been favored to win.

But they have yet to take out perhaps the most powerful of them all: President Donald Trump. In fact, admitted sexual predator Trump seems to do everything in his authority to enable harassment, from endorsing candidate Moore to reversing a rule that forbid federal contractors from keeping cases of sexual harassment secret.

The Trump Administration’s promise to rollback of Title IX provisions for campus sexual assault victims fits right in line. This first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in schools protected not only college students but their younger peers in public K-12 schools too. Which is why in this moment of urgency around sexual assault, these schools must step up to the fill the gap. Now more than ever, it’s important that these young students receive comprehensive education about sexual harassment and assault.

President Barack Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter to universities back in 2011 formalized a process for how sexual harassment should be handled on college campuses. It encouraged those institutions to punish sexual assault as swiftly and harshly as possible, describing such abuse as a form of discrimination that denies the victim an equal education. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show only 20 percent of all sexual assaults on college campuses are reported. It is projected, based on existing numbers, that one in five women are a victim of sexual assault in college.

But terrifyingly, 40 percent of rape victims are under 18 years of age. According to a 2011 study issued by the American Association of University women, 48 percent of junior high school and high school students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year and 87 percent said it had a negative effect on them.

In other words, what happens to women in college also occurs in high school and middle school, as the above studies, numerous lawsuits, and Roy Moore’s own alleged history of assaulting teen girls attest. But administrators often remain ill equipped to handle these situations.

Some children and teens engage in coercive, damaging and criminal activity without understanding it as such. Much of this is due to socialization by way of video games, movies, TV shows and advertisements that show women not only as sex objects but also as victims of horrific acts of violence. Sexual assault has become so pervasive that it is often viewed as commonplace, even mundane.

Title IX is one of several federal and state anti-discrimination laws that define and ensure equality in education. These are standards we must maintain.

This calls for health and sex education in all junior high and high schools that covers not just the basics of reproduction, but the topics of abuse, rape, and what consent means. Education on the subject of sex is an effective way to end risky and abusive behavior.

Schools must also develop district-wide policy on handling sexual assault, educating school administrators and staff on how to handle those situations, and establishing a process where student grievances can be heard.

In my daughter’s Southern California elementary school, children were taught to say in the most defiant manner possible, “No me gusto! I don’t like it!” if an adult or older child did something that made them uncomfortable.

In January 2016, California adopted the California Healthy Youth Act, covering sexual health education in public schools. The law requires health education classes that cover LGBT inclusiveness, human trafficking, contraception, HIV/AIDS intervention, “yes-means-yes” consent, slut bashing, street harassment, revenge porn, rape and prevention of shaming.

It can be difficult to face the harsh reality of sexual assault—particularly when it’s done to a child. But as the moment of #MeToo makes increasingly clear, it’s past time public school administrators and teachers to come to terms with the issue—especially as federal protections come under attack.

Taking classes and knowing school staff is competent in handling these difficult situations empowers students. They more fully understand their right to say “no” and the boundaries of what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Comprehensive sex education is not only essential to gender equality and school safety, but is foundational to an equal education for all.

Recommended reading:

C-SPAN: Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal on Trump Administration Campus Sexual Assault Policy

Related articles:

Title IX and Sexual Harassment in K-12 Public Schools: Key Steps to Compliance

The Journal of the America Medical Association: Prevalence Rates of Male and Female Sexual Violence Perpetrators in a National Sample of Adolescents

American Association of University Women: Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School

The Atlantic: The Younger Victims of Sexual Violence in School

Dora Taylor