New bill makes it easier to sue schools for sexual harassment

Here’s something you may not know (I certainly didn’t): A new civil rights bill introduced in Congress last week makes it easier for students to sue schools where they were sexually harassed or abused, if the school didn’t respond reasonably.
From Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER):

As the law currently stands, students have fewer protections than employees and so schools have less incentive than workplaces to curb their employees and educate against hostile environments. This excellent position paper explains why the changes are absolutely crucial. (Found via a Feminist Law Professors link.)

SAFER, an organization which aims to improve schools’ sexual assault prevention and response activities, is encouraging people to call their representatives about the bill and specifically mention the student sexual harassment provisions: “Our elected officials need to know that we care and that we’re paying attention. If this bill were to pass, it could be a powerful tool for fighting administrations that turn a blind eye to sexual assaults and rape culture on their campuses.” Indeed.

Join the Conversation

  • jgr4

    That’s a great bill. My college bragged about not having had a rape on campus for years – which everyone knew was complete bull. Ten thousand students and not a single rape? They covered it up because rape is bad for publicity. That is sure to encourage repeat offenses and students should be allowed to sue adminstrators who create that kind of environment.
    Now let’s move that down to the high school and gradeschool level and stop letting kids do things to each other that wouldn’t be tolerated in the adult world. Constant harrassment of a coworker would get a person fired, or be grounds for a lawsuit. But when kids do it, adults call it “teasing” and shrug off the emotional damage it can do.

  • Nightingale

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t help people who go to private schools that don’t receive government funding. Plus, as jgr4 mentioned, schools are notorious for covering up rapes which are bad for publicity, and victim-blaming is extremely common.
    And as jgr4 also mentioned, this does little to help against all the other kinds of abuse done by one peer to the other, which can be just as damaging as abuse of sexual nature.

  • Liza

    I’m going to guess that every girl who developed early (hi there) was harassed at least somewhat by other students. I certainly remember some popular-type cretin calling out “Liza, you have big knockers” when I’d walk across the room in 6th grade. Of course, at the time I didn’t know what sexual harassment was, but the teacher certainly did and he didn’t stop it. I doubt it was something I could have sued over, but it would have at least been nice to see that little shit get detention or something.
    On a similar note, did anyone see the article in the NY Daily News today that someone was raped on a N train near Coney Island last night? Right on the train. Kinda creeping me out. I usually try to avoid cars that are completely empty, and this is a good example of why.

  • crshark

    The bill was introduced by Ted Kennedy and is co-sponsored by 19 Senators, including Clinton and Obama. The proposed legislation modifies two Supreme Court decisions that established legal standards for when an individual may recover money damages against a school district, college, or university when the student has been subjected to a hostile environment by another student on the basis of sex. Under current law, a victim can recover money damages only if the school had “actual notice� of the hostile environment and then exhibited “deliberate indifference� regarding the harassment. The text of the legislation points out that this standard creates an incentive for schools to insulate themselves and remain ignorant about sexual harassment being perpetrated against students. The proposed legislation would make school districts liable for money damages if they “knew or should have known� of the harassment and then fail to exercise “reasonable care� to prevent and promptly correct the harassing activity.
    jgr4 – The bill would apply to elementary and secondary school districts as well. Actually, peer-on-peer sexual harassment is already illegal under Title IX. However, pursuant to court rulings, harassed student can only recover money damages from the school under narrow circumstances. But there are other avenues for enforcing Title IX.

  • Staar84

    I remember being bullied (not really sexually harassed) in elementary school and having to get my (VERY outspoken mother) to go to the principle multiple times before they actually did something. We had a teacher in 7th grade who used to make inappropriate comments to his female students, and as far as I know he STILL teaches there. So I am very glad to see this bill.

  • misskatie

    I hope this might push schools to take a more active role in addressing these issues with students. Unfortunately, the threat of getting sued over something can push schools to “take action”, but not always in the desired manner.
    I am a high school teacher. At my previous school, there was a boy who was harrassing girls. He would follow girls into the girls’ restroom, draw crude things, touch them inappropriately, and so on. We had a meeting about it, where one of my coworkers mentioned his behavior and wanted the rest of the teachers to help prevent him from harrassing more girls (don’t let him go to the restroom, seat him away from girls, etc). We also asked the principal what we more could be done about him. Unfortunately, the principal was more concerned about following the special education laws than protecting the girls because he was classified as qualifying for special education (for a speech impediment – not a behavior disability!), she wanted us to follow the modifications appropriate for a student with a behavior disorder (which he was not diagnosed as having). She kept saying, “We have to meet his needs” and we kept saying, “We have to protect girls in this school.” It was so ridiculous and so sad – all because she was afraid of getting sued.
    Schools should respect students’ safety enough to take action when girls are being sexually harrassed. They should also tackle these issues of sexual harrassment head on instead of pretending that teenagers don’t engage in these behaviors.

  • GottaBeMe

    I’m very glad to see this. I went to University of MD, College Park, and my senior year there were a rash of rapes on campus or just off campus. Yet when I saw the tours of high school students, none of that was mentioned, and the tour leaders always talked about how safe things were. The thing that really made me mad is that the dorm I lived in had an office in it, so the doors to the building were not locked, anyone could walk in. The doors to the hallways were locked and only residents had keys. But people were always propping the doors, or someone would sneak in and follow someone in, since the doors closed slowly.
    But the tour leaders always said that normally the doors to that building were locked and only residents could get in, which was a bald faced lie.
    And yes, teasing about boobs is sexual harrassment, not just teasing, especially since some boys aren’t content to just tease verbally, but will “accidentally on purpose” bump a girl’s breasts. That shit has got to be taken seriously and stopped no matter how early it happens. Those are the kids who grow up to be rapists if they never suffer any consequences.

  • adaerid

    Yes, finally! I love this bill. At my school, there was a teacher who made inappropriate comments to other students and would stand too close to me. I reported the teacher to my school counselor and he just dismissed me and made me feel guilty-he also said that the teacher has every right to do what he did. This confused me for the rest of the day and I told my friend about it the next day and she told me that the counselor is also an English teacher who
    “checks out” all his female students. Guh.
    I also remember my geometry teacher from last year (who couldn’t teach for shit; at least three or four people from his class failed, including me) who would let the students harass each other and disrupt his class, etc. and not write even a single referral. He’d go into these long ass speeches that made no sense, but he always bended over for those other kids. The class environment was, chaotic, in general and he never did anything to stop it. He also leered at the female students, too. And yes, surprise, surprise; he still teaches Geometry at South High School. His name’s Mulligan.
    I think that the schools should also check the teachers more thoroughly, for their credibility and whether they might be a pedophile/ephebophile applying for a job that deals primarily with children and teens.