April 2019

IN THIS ISSUE - April 2019


Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and changes are coming to Title IX, which provides protections for sexual assault survivors on campus.  TAP is on top of the proposed changes and will be ready to conduct updated trainings and represent survivors when the new changes go into effect.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that protects students who experience sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, interpersonal violence (including dating and domestic violence), stalking, or discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Campuses are required to take immediate action to ensure that students can continue their education free of ongoing discrimination or sexual violence including retaliatory harassment.
 
College sexual assault remains a massive problem: 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced some form of sexual assault during their time in college. People of color and LGBTQ experience even higher rates. In March 2017, The University of Texas released a study that found 15 percent of undergraduate women at UT reported they had been raped and 28 percent were victims of unwanted sexual touching. Despite these staggering statistics, sexual assault is actually grossly under-reported, especially among the college-aged, with only 20 percent reporting sexual violence to law enforcement.
 
On November 16, 2018, the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights proposed changes, that if adopted, will modify key aspects of the Title IX investigation process.  Some of the most noteworthy changes include:

  1. Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment: Currently the definition is any "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature." The proposed plan will narrow the definition of sexual harassment to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” 
  2. Make it harder for victims to report: Under the current regulation, students can report their sexual assault to anyone, including faculty or advisers, and a school is required to investigate when it "knows or reasonably should know" about a possible sexual assault. The proposed changes would require a formal report to the school. 
  3. Giving schools the option for burden of proof:  Under the proposed rule change, schools would be able to choose between “preponderance of evidence” and “clear and convincing evidence” standards for Title IX cases. The "clear and convincing" option sets a higher bar for evidence that is difficult to achieve in many sexual assault cases. This could discourage survivors from reporting because they will need more proof that the assault occurred.
  4. Expanding religious exemptions:  Previously, religious schools had to submit a written explanation of how Title IX conflicted with their religious tenants in order to be exempted.  Under the proposed change, they could claim the exemption without going through that formality.
  5. Bolster the rights of the accused: The proposed rule will revise how to best handle Title IX investigations, including giving the respondent (accused) the right to cross examine the complainant (victim) at a formal hearing, which could be used to intimidate victims. 

On November 29, 2018 a 60-day notice-and-comment period opened and has subsequently closed. The Department of Education is currently reviewing the comments and will then publish the changes. Experts estimate this review period could take months to a year.  Although the proposed rules are not yet finalized, many organizations that represent survivors fear that that they will hurt, silence and discourage survivors from coming forward. No matter what the outcome, at TAP we will be ready and remain committed to providing survivors with the most up to date legal advice and representation. 

“My biggest fear is for students who are assaulted off campus.  Before the current administration set out to overhaul Title IX, schools were empowered to take action against Title IX violations that occurred off campus.  Under the proposed new rule, schools can only take action against misconduct that occurs on campus or at school-sponsored activities.  So many sexual assaults between students occur off campus, at parties and in private housing.  The proposed changes to Title IX would not only prevent schools from investigating and disciplining these assaults – it would also prevent schools from providing survivors with accommodations to help them carry on with their education in peace and safety.”
-Allison Kolb, Texas Advocacy Project Staff Attorney


Teen Ambassadors of Hope

We had an outstanding turn-out for our 2019 Teen Ambassadors of Hope training! These teens learned the skills to create their own teen dating violence awareness campaign & raise critical funds for TAP. Thank you Dr. Barry Bales of LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin and Staff Attorney Cheremma Lee for captivating presentations.

To date, the Teens have raised over $7,900 their $30,000 goal.  You can read all about our inspiring teens and donate to their individual campaigns using the CrowdRise link below. 

Donate to Teen ambassadors of hope on Crowdrise

 


Training Spotlight

          

TAP had the privilege of attending the Conference on Crimes Against Women in Dallas this month. Our Legal Director, Bronwyn Blake, and Survivors Services and Training Director, Amanda Elkanick Oder, shared their expertise while leading multiple training sessions for the conference.

Crimes Against Women provides practical instruction using current information, the newest ideas and most successful intervention strategies to those professionals responsible for combating the many and varied forms of crimes against women. 

The conference is conducted for the sole purpose of providing training to only those people employed by governmental or non-profit agencies in the fields of law enforcement, prosecution, social work, victims advocacy, therapy, probation/parole, campus safety and medicine who work directly with victims of crime. 

Crimes Against Women was incredibly successful with over 2,800 attendees and the countless victims whose lives will be touched through the ripple effect of all theses successful trainings.

If you or your agency have training needs or events you’d like us to be involved in, please email training@texasadvocacyproject.org


Volunteer Spotlight

Interview with Legal Volunteer
Heather Beam 

1) Why did you choose to be a TAP Legal Volunteer?
After having personal experience with the effect that domestic violence has on a person, I chose to volunteer with Texas Advocacy Project because I want to provide a voice to survivors in the court system. 
 
2) Briefly describe what you did for TAP as a Volunteer?
I provide free legal advice on the phone to individuals who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This includes explaining the process for filing for divorce, obtaining a protective order, and/or issues involving child custody and child support. 
 
3) Why is TAP’s mission so important to share with others?
Texas Advocacy Project’s mission is important because every person has the right to live free from fear. 
 
4) How did volunteering at TAP have an impact on you? What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
Volunteering has impacted me because it’s given me the opportunity to help people who are experiencing issues similar to those that I’ve previously seen firsthand in my own life. Also, in sharing my volunteering with friends and family, I learned that so many people have experienced issues involving domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. These issues can affect anyone regardless of race, socio-economic status, or gender. By ending our silence on these issues, we can work together to stop it.  
 
5) What did you enjoy most about your time at TAP?
I enjoy interacting with and helping the individuals that I speak with on the phone. Their stories and experiences matter to me. I think it is important to provide accurate legal advice, while also showing compassion and acknowledging the emotional and physical issues that clients may be experiencing. 
 
6) What is your favorite pastime?  Where can we typically find you on the weekends?
I love to travel, and I’ve been to around fifteen countries solo so far. On the weekends, I enjoy exploring small towns and state parks in Texas. You can usually find me somewhere in nature hiking, kayaking, or reading a book in my hammock. 


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