You Give Love a Bad Name – The Dual Nature of Dating Violence and Title IX May 26, 2015

By Susan C. Stone and Kristina W. Supler

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits any educational program that receives federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include dating violence, sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault. As the pressure on colleges and universities to curb sexual violence on their campuses grows, schools have ramped up their Title IX investigations and disciplinary efforts. Now, more than ever before, Title IX investigations and related disciplinary actions are occurring across the country.

Title IX and the Cleary Act require colleges and universities to record reports of violence and to keep track of incidents (such as dating violence) that create a hostile environment for its students. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2013, increases transparency on campus about incidents of sexual violence, guarantees victims enhanced rights, sets standards and requires prevention education programs. Under Title IX, once an institution “knows or reasonably should know” that a hostile environment exists, it must “take immediate action” to end the harassing or violent conduct and address its effects.

Both men and women can be victims of dating violence, which is much broader than physical acts of violence. Dating violence may include threats of violence, harassment and exerting control over one’s partner. Signs of dating violence may include situations where a person:

  • Constantly blames his/her boyfriend or girlfriend for everything, including his/her own abusive behavior
  • Makes mean and degrading comments about a partner’s appearance, beliefs or accomplishments
  • Constantly checks a partner’s cell phone or email without permission
  • Monitors where the partner is going, who he/she is going with and what he/she is doing
  • Isolates the other partner from friends and family
  • Controls money and time
  • Shows extreme jealousy
  • Loses his/her temper
  • Physically and/or sexually assaults another
  • Damages the other person’s property
  • Possessiveness

While physical acts of violence and threats of violence (not necessarily the guilt or innocence) are often easy to identify, some acts of dating violence are much more difficult to identify. For example, monitoring where one’s partner is going, showing jealousy or possessiveness, or losing one’s temper is not black and white. Some of these behaviors may be endearing to some extent, but at an extreme level, the same behavior may cause emotional distress, fear and anxiety.

A school’s “immediate action” often leads to disciplinary actions against the accused student, which may lead to his or her academic separation from the school. The requirement that a school record and track incidents that create a hostile environment is without a doubt designed to eliminate or reduce acts of dating violence. This shield is critical in allowing students to get an education in a setting free from harassment, violence and fear.

However, given that the school must “take immediate action” under Title IX, students can also use the Title IX complaint process as a sword, even where alleged conduct did not occur. Bad breakups can lead to hard feelings and a desire to seek revenge to inflict pain on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. Unfortunately, these feelings can and have resulted in unsupported Title IX charges being filed.

The problem is that a neutral Title IX investigator must proceed with neutrality and investigate all claims to determine if they are real and substantial or frivolous. The process can be daunting for students on either side of the equation.

Whether you have been the victim of dating violence or have been accused of dating violence, it is critical that you understand the procedural steps associated with the Title IX investigation and the possible consequences. To best understand your rights and your options, you should contact an attorney who specializes in Title IX law as soon as possible. If you are involved in a Title IX complaint or parallel criminal investigation, contact Susan Stone or Kristina Supler, who have combined experience representing both students who have been the victim of dating violence and students who have been accused of dating violence.

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