Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault in Schools: Resources and a Call to Action

Every year, about 1 in 10 American teenagers experiences physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend, and many others are sexually and emotionally abused. Dating violence can inflict long‑lasting pain, putting survivors at increased risk of substance abuse, depression, poor academic performance, suicidal ideation, and future violence. The U.S. Department of Education is dedicated to working with students, families, educators, and communities to prevent abuse and support survivors.

In one Texas high school, a student was raped in the band room. After reporting it to her teacher, she was told to confront her attacker to discuss what happened. The school district then accused the teenager of “public lewdness” and then removed her from her high school. She – and the rapist – were sent to the same disciplinary school.

Rather than supporting her, she was punished by the people charged with protecting her.  The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated and found that the school had violated Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to, among other things, revise its policies and procedures, provide mandatory annual training for staff, and designate a counselor at each school as “on call” for students reporting sexual harassment.

The Department of Education, our federal partners, and countless schools and colleges nationwide are committed to preventing incidents like this. We are working together to raise awareness, develop effective prevention strategies, and educate young people about healthy relationships. We recognize that the real work of preventing teen dating violence and sexual assault happens at the local level, in schools, in homes, and in community centers across the nation. Schools must clearly communicate that they will not tolerate violence of any kind, will respond to any students who report it, and will hold offenders accountable. It is also critical that we support those students who have experienced violence, which may include providing access to academic support or counseling.

The Department is vigorously enforcing compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act—laws that help make our schools safer. The following resources provide more information to support schools and communities in their efforts to create safe, healthy learning environments and identify, investigate, and remedy teen dating violence and sexual assault:

If you, a friend, or a loved one, is in an abusive relationship, the National Dating Abuse Helpline will offer immediate and confidential support.  To contact the Helpline, call 1‑866‑331‑9474, text “loveis” to 22522, or visit www.LoveIsRespect.org.

Getting to Know Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon

As her teacher taught a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle to advance civil rights, Catherine E. Lhamon’s then-four-year-old daughter proudly informed her class, “My mom does that!”

Lhamon has dedicated her life’s work to equity and justice. Appointed by President Obama, she is doing that as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon and Vice President Biden

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon walks with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.

“My own parents were active in civil rights and I attended law school knowing I wanted to make a difference,” said Lhamon, who earned her law degree at Yale after graduating summa cum laude from Amherst College.

Before joining the administration, Lhamon was one of California’s top civil rights lawyers. She worked at the nation’s largest pro bono law firm as Director of Impact Litigation at Public Counsel. She practiced for a decade at the ACLU of Southern California as well as served as a teaching fellow and supervising attorney in the Appellate Litigation Program at Georgetown University Law Center after clerking for The Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

A mother of two young girls, Lhamon moved with her husband and children after her confirmation last summer to continue the work she loves in our nation’s capital. And while Lhamon – who was named one of California’s top 20 lawyers under 40 – brings impressive credentials to her new role, her fresh perspective is vital too.

“After 17 years in the field, I’ve mostly been the one asking government to do more. Now I’ve joined government,” she said.

Lhamon has spent nearly two decades reaching out to and fighting for the civil rights community—resulting in thick skin and extensive knowledge. While she highlights these qualities as assets, above all else, Lhamon credits the tremendous team around her for assisting in a seamless transition and continued accomplishments under her leadership.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which Lhamon heads, is a team of almost 600 people, in 12 regional offices, that she describes as “diverse, well-educated, and passionate.” Lhamon speaks fluently about the office’s ability to handle a wide range of discrimination violations, including novel cases requiring new and creative solutions. Among other cases, she cites a resolution ensuring equitable access to Advanced Placement courses for students of color and a resolution with a virtual charter school ensuring students with disabilities equitable access to their school’s website as evidence of OCR’s success. The Department’s first-ever guidance on the excessive and disproportionate use of out of school discipline was widely hailed as a vital step for the field.

Some 10,000 complaints a year are sent to OCR and Lhamon calls her predecessor’s review of these cases “breathtaking.” In recent years, OCR released guidance to ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunity in extracurricular athletics; clarify full requirements of Title IX in regards to sexual harassment and violence; and encourage the voluntary use of race in the interest of achieving diversity in schools.

Lhamon knows there remains no shortage of civil rights violations occurring across the country today.  She recognizes the difficulties and urgency of the moment and seeks to head an office that “uses our time well and in the process gets a lot more justice for a lot more kids.”

For the remainder of the Obama administration, she will be fighting on behalf of those kids. Lhamon’s younger daughter sees her mom as quite simply: President Obama’s lawyer. She is also every student’s lawyer—a challenging job Lhamon is eager to tackle.

Dan Griffin is a confidential assistant at the U.S. Department of Education

Shooting Hoops to Celebrate Title IX

Secretary Duncan and his family joined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, members from the women’s basketball teams of Georgetown, George Washington and Howard universities, current and former WNBA players, and more, at the Interior Department last night to commemorate the passage of Title IX 40 years ago.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, and has resulted in millions of women competing in interscholastic and intercollegiate sports as never before.

Watch the video below and read Secretary Duncan’s remarks on the anniversary of Title IX.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Before the Title IX anniversary, the ED published a new gender-based analysis of its Civil Rights Data Collection. The data snapshot highlights differences in educational opportunities between males and females from pre-K through higher education.

See what people are saying about the Title IX anniversary.

Talking Title IX on Twitter

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the civil rights law that ensures educational institutions that receive federal funding do not discriminate on the basis of sex. Secretary Duncan has said that Title IX is “one of the great civil rights success stories in education.” To kick off the anniversary year, Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali joined Lisa Maatz of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) for a Title IX tweetup.

Maatz and the AAUW took questions from Twitter users, and Secretary Duncan and Ali responded via Twitter. Here are just a few of the questions and answers addressed during the tweetup:

To see more of the conversation, follow Arne and the Office for Civil Rights on Twitter, and click here to see the #T9Talk discussion.