In 2012, Kate McGunagle was a sophomore at Princeton University when she decided to take part in one of the school’s study abroad programs. Kate was an English major with a passion for Shakespeare, which led her to studying at Worcester College at the University of Oxford in England. She enjoyed nearly every aspect of learning abroad from independent study to theater productions to traveling throughout Europe. But the dreams of Kate’s overseas’ education came with a nightmare of its own.
Like many students who study abroad, Kate spent the six-week vacation break between trimesters to travel across Europe. During her travels, Kate connected with many individuals via CouchSurfing, a platform that allows travelers to connect with local hosts for free accommodation. She met several individuals who so freely and joyfully showed her the intricate details and sites of their beautiful foreign cities. One of the hosts she met in Padua, Italy was a police officer who boasted years of a 5-star rating on CouchSurfing. After a fun day of sight-seeing near Venice, the friendly host offered Kate a cup of chamomile tea. Unbeknownst to her, the tea was spiked with a high dose of surgical anesthetic. She was raped and did not manage to escape until nearly 36 hours later.
At the time of her return to Princeton, Kate was virtually silent about what had occurred to her while she was studying abroad. She struggled emotionally and academically following the attack. Kate was unaware that study-abroad incidents like hers were covered under Title IX regulations—or at least Princeton’s implementation of the old Title IX regulations.
In May 2020, the United States Department of Education issued new Title IX regulations that will materially affect how institutions of higher education handle claims of campus sexual assault and harassment. The new regulations redefine the term “Education Program or Activity” as “locations, events, or circumstances over which the school exercised substantial control over both the respondent and the context in which the sexual harassment occurred, and also includes any building owned or controlled by a student organization that is officially recognized by a postsecondary institution (such as a fraternity or sorority house).” This phrasing—and many others—in the new Title IX regulations are favorable to the accused, not survivors. For instance, the new definition of “Education Program or Activity” means that a student who is raped at an off-campus apartment that is not owned by the university may not be afforded Title IX protection. A student who was raped abroad wouldn’t be protected either.
In addition to the content of the new regulations, the timing in which the Department of Education has implemented the regulations is also uncanny. The new regulation mandates that at least three separate officials are involved in the various steps of the Title IX complaint process, and institutions are expected to have them in place by mid-August. Yet, this increase in manpower is being requested in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic while many colleges are facing budget shortfalls. Notably, the Department of Education generally allows schools about eight months to implement new regulations, but it has significantly shortened the amount of time in which universities have to make the adjustment.
Some believe the new regulations are needed to ensure that the accused experience fairness and due process in Title IX proceedings, but others argue the revisions are nothing more than a vehicle to silence survivors. Our firm is committed to making sure that survivors have their voices heard loud and clear. The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz are dedicated to bringing justice to survivors of sexual abuse. Please contact us to receive more information.