The #MeToo movement has brought national attention to widespread issues regarding sexual harassment and violence, but one group is often overlooked: school-aged children.  In response, the #MeTooK12 campaign was launched last month to expand the conversation around sexual harassment and violence, including Title IX violations in elementary, middle, and high schools.  People are often unaware or reluctant to admit there is a problem at such young ages, but unfortunately, instances of sexual harassment and violence have no age limit.  Overlooking children in grades K-12 can obviously be harmful, and without proper discipline and age-appropriate conversations, these behaviors can become normalized.  The purpose of #MeTooK12 is to increase awareness and start the conversation surrounding Title IX issues, which will lead to implementation of better solutions.

Acts of sexual harassment and violence are difficult to quantify because the data is both under-reported and unreported.  According to one 2017 Associated Press study, K-12 students officially reported at least 17,000 instances of sexual assault against peers between 2011-2015[1].  Unfortunately, problems in K-12 are much more prevalent than the reported numbers, and more widespread than just amongst peers.

The goal of #MeTooK12’s is to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault in these young ages and to start a movement of change surrounding how allegations of Title IX violations are handled.  In many K-12 environments, school administrators are unaware of their obligations under Title IX and wait for law enforcement intervention.  This is not how allegations of sexual assault and violence should be handled at any level.

Historically, Title IX investigations have been conducted by school administrators or other school employees. The use of in-house personnel for investigations creates an appearance of bias and often draws allegations of conflicts of interest. In addition, many school administrators and personnel lack proper training in completing thorough and fair Title IX investigations.

In today’s world, any school that undertakes an investigation into allegations of sexual assault, sexual violence, or sexual harassment – which is not conducted in an impartial, competent, and prompt manner – risks significant consequences for violating the requirements of Title IX. These consequences can include monetary damages from lawsuits, administrative penalties from regulatory agencies, and damaging publicity to the school. To minimize these risks and potential consequences, K–12 schools should continually review their existing practices and procedures and replace any outdated methods with the current best practices. These best practices include retaining an outside organization with the expertise and experience to conduct the investigation in manner that ensures the impartiality and competence required under Title IX.

*Special thanks to law clerk, Elizabeth Kurowski, who contributed to this article.

 

[1] Associated Press. (2017, May 1).  Hidden horror of school sex assaults revealed by AP.  Retrieved from: https://www.ap.org/explore/schoolhouse-sex-assault/index.html.