Title IX Sexual Assault Lawsuits
Survivors of sexual violence at school are federally protected by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The Mahoney Law Firm helps survivors get justice, relief, and compensation to help them recover so they can access all available educational opportunities and enjoy full lives.
Sexual assault at school deprives victims of learning opportunities when school officials refuse to address it. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) makes educational institutions that receive public funds liable when they fail to investigate allegations of sexual assault or discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and restore a safe learning environment for the victims.
Survivors of sexual assault at school are often forced to face their perpetrators daily, while the perpetrators are allowed to continue harassing or assaulting them without consequences. Any student of any age or gender can experience sexual assault at school, but female students and members of the LGBTQ community are most often targeted. Often, Title IX violations occur where a teacher or other student commits an act of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sexual abuse against a student.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a law regulated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that bans discrimination on the basis of sex as follows:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX applies to the following institutions:
- Public K-12 schools
- Private K-12 schools
- Postsecondary institutions
- Charter schools
- For-profit schools
- Vocational rehabilitation agencies
- Education agencies
According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), sex discrimination under Title IX includes discrimination based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, and parenting status. Sex-based harassment falls under the category of discriminatoin based on sex, and encompasses sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. It applies to all school-sponsored activities on and off school grounds, including school bus transportation and athletics.
Failing to investigate allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of gender-based violence is discriminatory because it creates a hostile environment that interferes with learning and prevents survivors from taking advantage of educational opportunities.
Types of Violence Included in Title IX
The Office of Civil Rights defines sexual assault as a type of sexual harassment. Sexual assault includes but is not limited to any of the following:
- Attempted rape
- Forcible sodomy
- Unwanted sexual touching
- Forced sexual acts
Sexual harassment also includes the following acts:
- Quid pro quo harassment – a faculty member offers sexual favors in exchange for something the student wants, such as a privilege or a high score on a test or assignment
- Unwelcome sexual conduct that is pervasive and objectionable enough to deter the student from participating in educational activities
- Dating violence, including stalking
- Discriminatory discipline
- Discrimination based on sexual orientation
- Discrimination based on gender identity
- Unequal access to educational opportunities, such as athletics or technical school
Who is covered by Title IX?
Title IX protects anyone who interacts with the school or school programs, including but not limited to the following:
- Faculty (teachers)
Facts About Sexual Violence in Schools
A 2020 NBC News report revealed that K-12 schools are notoriously negligent in handling sexual assault complaints. According to the report, at least 330 lawsuits were filed across the country from the beginning of 2018 to May of 2020, alleging public and charter schools failed to protect students from sexual assault and ongoing harassment.
The OCR tracks incidents of sexual assault in the schools. During the 2017-2018 school year, the last year for which data is available, 14,938 incidents of sexual assault were reported in the nation’s schools, including 786 rapes and attempted rapes.
According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), more than 11% of students experience rape or sexual assault, and nearly half of students in grades 7 to 12 report having been sexually harassed, despite 79% of schools with these grades having never reported any incidents of sexual harassment.
According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2019 National School Climate Survey, LGBTQ youth experience a higher level of abuse and sex discrimination in the public school system, according to the following findings:
- 6 in 10 LGTBQ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation
- 4 in 10 feel unsafe because of their gender expression
- 1 in 5 LGBTQ students switched schools because they felt unsafe
- 75 percent have heard the word “gay” used in a negative way often
- More than half have heard derogatory slurs and negative comments about gender expression from students and staff
- Two-thirds have heard negative comments from school staff about gender expression
- Three-fourths have heard sexist remarks and insults about their intelligence.
In regard to anti-LGBTQ remarks, the survey revealed that “[l]ess than one-fifth of LGBTQ students (13.7%) reported that school staff intervened most of the time or always when overhearing homophobic remarks at school, and less than one-tenth of LGBTQ students (9.0%) reported that school staff intervened most of the time or always when overhearing negative remarks about gender expression.”
As a result, LGBTQ students avoid bathrooms, locker rooms, school functions, and extracurricular activities because they feel unsafe.
The Impacts of Sexual Assault at School
Sexual assault is a traumatic occurrence at any age, but children and teens who experience sexual violence during their formative years are especially vulnerable to permanent, life-altering effects. According to the Intercultural Development Research Association, sexual harassment and violence impact the student’s ability to learn, with students reporting the following:
- Aversion to going to school
- Difficulty studying
- Trouble sleeping
- Missed days of school
- Behavioral issues at school
- Changes in transportation to school
- Cessation of sports and other activities
- Change of schools
Students also face the following mental health impacts:
- Negative thoughts and beliefs about their bodies
- Suicide attempts
- Fear of intimacy
- Eating disorders
- Adult-like sexual behaviors
- Inadequate personal hygiene
According to the CDC, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) create toxic stress that can interfere with brain development and the body’s management of stress.
ACEs are linked to increased risks of the following:
- Chronic health problems, such as asthma, cancer, and diabetes
- Mental illness, including depression
- Substance misuse
What are a school’s responsibilities under Title IX?
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights enforces Title IX regulations, which impose the following obligations on schools:
- Publish and widely distribute a school policy stating it does not discriminate on the basis of sex.
- Designate a Title IX coordinator and notify students and parents that inquiries concerning Title IX may be directed to this individual or the Office of Civil Rights.
- Adopt and publish a grievance procedure that provides prompt and equitable resolution for students who experience sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and violence.
- Respond promptly and effectively to cases of sexual harassment that it knows or reasonably should know has or is occurring.
- Provide a reasonable and impartial investigation of complaints which include the right of both parties to provide evidence that includes witnesses.
- Offer an appeal process that is available to both parties.
- Promptly identify and investigate cases of sex discrimination even if the student or parents do not wish to file a complaint, whether or not a criminal investigation is also underway.
- Notify both parties upon receipt of a complaint that an investigation will be conducted.
- Notify both parties of the outcome of the investigation (victims have the right to know about consequences to the perpetrator that impact or benefit them, confidentiality laws notwithstanding).
Schools may use mediation to resolve complaints of student-to-student harassment, but victims must be informed that mediation is voluntary, and they have the right to end informal processes at any time in favor of a formal process. Informal processes involving staff-to-student harassment are prohibited.
Title IX strictly prohibits schools from engaging in any form of retaliation against a student who reports sex discrimination.
When are schools liable for sexual harassment and violence under Title IX?
Schools are liable for any harm that comes to a student as a result of deliberate indifference in their responses to sexual harassment and violence. Schools demonstrate deliberate indifference when they fail to respond in a manner as prescribed by Title IX regulations.
Title IX liability does not stem from the act of violence itself. It stems from a school’s failure to investigate and ameliorate complaints of sexual violence properly, which can result in repeated acts of sexual assault or violence by the same perpetrator. Even if the violence did not occur on campus, the school may be liable under Title IX if the student subsequently endures a hostile environment caused by taunting or harassment by the perpetrator or other students.
What remedies are available against a school that violates Title IX?
If you or your child has experienced sexual assault in any educational institution covered by Title IX, you can receive injunctive relief and compensatory damages by filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights and/or filing a Title IX civil lawsuit against the institution.
When you file a complaint, the Office of Civil Rights will promptly open an investigation. If it finds that the school failed to comply with Title IX, the OCR will require specific remedial measures through a voluntary agreement or, if the school fails to comply, through a referral to the Department of Justice.
You are not limited to just filing a complaint with the OCR, however. You can directly proceed with filing a civil lawsuit against the institution resulting from their failures in allowing the sexual assault or abuse to occur.
What types of compensation are available in a Title IX sexual assault lawsuit?
Survivors of sexual assault are entitled to the following types of compensation in a Title IX lawsuit:
- Economic damages – the monetary costs associated with the discrimination
- Moving and transportation expenses if you had to transfer schools to escape the hostile environment
- Medical expenses, including the cost of mental health services, stemming from the school’s failure to investigate and ameliorate the abuse
- Lost wages
- Non-economic damages
- Mental anguish and emotional distress
- Loss of reputation
- Loss of capacity to enjoy life
Punitive damages are not available in Title IX cases. Some states impose limits on compensation. The amount of compensation you receive will vary based on the specific facts of your case.
What actions should I take if I have a Title IX claim due to sexual violence?
Sexual assault is a crime. If you or your child has experienced sexual violence in an educational environment, take the following steps to ensure your rights and interests are protected:
- Report sexual violence and discrimination to your Title IX coordinator. If you do not know who your Title IX coordinator is, report the abuse to the guidance counselor or school administrator.
- Contact an attorney as soon as possible to help you file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, file a Title IX lawsuit, and/or file a criminal complaint against the perpetrator.
- Do not discuss the case with anyone, including school officials, peers, or friends, and do not post information about the case on social media.
If your school or anyone else attempts to discuss the case with you, always direct them to your attorney. Never sign any documents related to the case without your attorney present.
When should I contact an attorney?
It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after you become aware that you or your child has been sexually assaulted. There are various statutes of limitations that must be complied with in order to file your claim.
The statute of limitations to file a civil lawsuit varies based on the state where your case occurs. In many cases, it is one year from the date the child turns 18 where the defendant is a school. Illinois has a unique statute of limitations for cases where childhood sexual abuse has occurred. In Illinois, the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases is 20 years from the date the person abused turns 18 or within 20 years of the date the person abused discovers they were a victim of childhood sexual abuse and that their injuries were caused by childhood sexual abuse.
How can a civil rights lawyer help me with my Title IX sexual assault lawsuit?
Coming forward after experiencing sexual assault is an act of courage. Unfortunately, when survivors of sexual assault report the violence, they often experience unfair treatment, which can be even more traumatic than the initial abuse, including:
- Victim blaming
- Further victimization
- Unfair punishments
- Unequal grading standards
When these forms of maltreatment occur on school grounds, at school-sponsored activities, or on the school bus, students are exposed to a hostile environment that violates Title IX. A sexual assault attorney from the Mahoney Law Firm can provide advocacy and support during this difficult time while also ensuring the school is held accountable and forced, if necessary, to comply with the law.
Why is the Mahoney Law Firm my best choice?
Ryan Mahoney, founder of the Mahoney Law Firm, has extensive experience helping survivors of sexual harassment get justice. Mr. Mahoney has taken on high-profile cases and built a strong reputation achieving substantial compensation on behalf of sexual harassment and sexual assault survivors.
Mr. Mahoney takes a personalized, compassionate approach to each case with meticulous attention to detail. His strong litigation skills are evident in his willingness to take difficult cases to trial when necessary to ensure victims recover the compensation they need and deserve, even when others might have settled.
The Mahoney Law Firm is based in Illinois but accepts cases throughout the midwest. Contact the Mahoney Law Firm, LLC today for a free consultation by calling (618) 961-8288.