By: Alex Zalkin, Esq. The Zalkin Law Firm
There is a growing national spotlight on the issue of sexual assault on our college campuses. Research findings about the scope of the problem vary widely, with findings ranging from 3% to 17% to as many as 20% of women in college will be victims of some form of sexual assault.
While these statistics alone are staggering enough, there is an equal or possibly even more egregious reality relating to the way our nation’s colleges and universities respond to these sexual assaults. All too often, university administrators fail to adequately address claims of sexual assault on campus, and even actively discourage sexual assault victims from pursuing any recourse for their victimization.
This issue of campus sexual assault has been highlighted for the public by brave victims coming forward and by the new film, “The Hunting Ground”, showing this weekend at both the Hillcrest Landmark Theater and AMC La Jolla 12. The film follows the plights of two sexual assault victims who were denied justice and accountability by their own school’s disciplinary process, and ultimately sought recourse through an administrative Title IX complaint with the Department of Education. This film expands on the growing national awareness of this issue.
Only last September, President Obama launched the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on campus. Lady Gaga released “Till It Happens To You,” an emotional ode to the psychological effects resulting from a sexual assault. Thankfully, this growing national concern has led to efforts to correct the inadequacies of the status quo among universities and their attitudes towards campus sexual assault.
This failure of colleges to recognize this problem and to support victims who step forward to report has led to legislative action both in Congress and in the California legislature. Senator Barbara Boxer, with Congresswoman Susan Davis in the house, has introduced S.2695 - SOS Campus Act, legislation that would require colleges and universities to establish an independent, on-campus advocate to support survivors of sexual assault. And, last year the California legislature passed and Governor Brown signed SB 967, known as the "yes means yes" law, that was the first in the nation to make affirmative consent language a central tenant of school sexual assault policies. The law also changes how campus officials investigate sexual assault allegations.
Since 1990, The Clery Act has required universities to publicly report campus crime statistics, including statistics on sexually violent crimes. The unintended consequence of this requirement has been to incentivize universities to engage in behavior that actively discourages sexual assault victims from reporting their crimes. College administrators frequently fail to investigate claims, discourage victims from reporting their sexual assaults to the police, and allow perpetrators to remain on campus with little or no restrictions. The motive for their inaction is clear – the less they do to verify a credible claim of sexual assault, the less likely they will be to have to publicly report it.
The effect of a school’s negative actions, or inactions, on a victim’s mental health is real and significant. More and more, research is confirming that this “institutional betrayal” creates a second victimization that can exacerbate the psychological effects of the sexual assault itself, and even create new psychological injuries.
A victim of sexual assault who has been ignored by their institution is not without an avenue for recourse, though. There is a path to justice for victims to hold their institutions accountable for their actions and inactions through the use of the administrative and civil processes created by federal statues in Title IX. Known mostly for its impact on college athletics, Title IX also prohibits discrimination based on sex at any educational institution that receives federal funds.
Title IX provides two avenues for victims of sexual assault to hold their school accountable for failing to properly address their complaint of sexual assault. First, a sexual assault victim can file an administrative complaint with the Department of Education. The DOE has the authority to audit an institution, and ultimately, can revoke any federal funding that institution receives.
Lesser known, but equally available, is the private right of action created by Title IX and recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools and Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. Essentially, the Supreme Court acknowledged that Title IX allows victims of sexual assault to sue an educational institution in civil court for money damages resulting from that institution’s “deliberate indifference” to their claim of sexual assault. This is significant, in that it can provide a victim with the resources they need to address the psychological injuries created and exacerbated by their educational institution’s behavior.
Ultimately, it is a combination of victims availing themselves of the administrative and civil avenues created by Title IX, and a growing national awareness that will force educational institutions to stop looking out for the welfare of their institution and start looking out for the safety of the students whom they serve.
During Lopez’s trial, Ashe testified that the Watchtower instructs elders that child abuse must be kept confidential.
“And it directs that that should be kept confidential from prosecuting authorities?” Zalkin asked.
“Yes,” Ashe responded.The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) was founded in 1977. CIR is nationally respected for setting the highest journalistic standards, and for its signature approach to investigative reporting and collaboration. CIR partners with numerous media organizations to publish stories online, as well as for print, television, radio/audio, video and live events. With NPR PRX, CIR co-produces the nationally distributed “Reveal” radio show and podcast. “Jehovah’s Witnesses use 1st Amendment to hide child sex abuse claims” was featured nationally on NPR PRX on thirty-seven stations on February 14th. The Zalkin Law Firm now has more 16 cases against the Jehovah’s Witnesses representing victims of childhood sexual abuse at different congregations in California, Oregon, Connecticut, New Mexico, Washington and Ohio. “All of these cases show how Elders within the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to protect child sex abusers by blindly following the company line,” said Irwin Zalkin, of The Zalkin Law Firm, the co-attorney for the Lewis sisters. “The growing number of these cases in the U.S. and Britain shows a reckless and immoral tolerance of child sexual abuse that is ignored at the highest levels by the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who continue to fight to keep such information secret.” Mr. Zalkin is available for media interviews about the CIR report and this topic. The CIR report is available online at: http://www.revealnews.org/article/jehovahs-witnesses-use-1st-amendment-to-hide-child-sex-abuse-claims/ About The Zalkin Law Firm With offices in San Diego and New York, The Zalkin Law Firm is one of the premier sexual abuse and personal injury law firms in the country. The firm's lawyers have represented hundreds of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and achieved groundbreaking results in numerous high-profile clergy abuse cases across the United States. The Zalkin Law Firm has aggressively represented hundreds of survivors of child sexual abuse, including former Boy Scouts. The firm has negotiated over $200 million in settlements in Catholic clergy sex abuse cases.
"The leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses – one of the world’s most insular religions – for 25 years has instructed its elders to keep cases of child sexual abuse secret from law enforcement and members of their own congregations, according to an examination of thousands of pages of documents in recent cases.
The religion’s parent organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, issued the directives in at least 10 memos dating back to 1989. Although the memos were anonymously written, Watchtower officials have testified that the organization’s Governing Body approved them all."Click Here to read full report.