Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Writing About Title IX and Campus Sexual Assault? Start Here.

Covering an alleged sexual assault is a difficult assignment for any journalist. Education reporters have to deal with the added complication of Title IX, the 39-page federal law that addresses sexual discrimination in education.

Education reporters working on stories about sexual discrimination or assault should be cognizant of the ugly history of shoddy investigations and deceit surrounding previous incidents, such as the University of Virginia hoax published by Rolling Stone, and the many cases in which women’s allegations have been ignored .

And as with every politically charged issue, reporters should be aware of disputes over data. Some surveys by respected organizations, including the Association of American Universities and the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics find, for example, that rape is prevalent on campus. (The AAU study found 23 percent of female undergraduates experienced some sort of sexual “misconduct,” for instance.) But another federal data set found that college campuses are, statistically, safer for women than the rest of the country.

So if you’re working on a story about Title IX or sexual assaults on campus, here are some trustworthy resources recommended by veteran education journalists:

General background: EWA’s Topics Page on Sexual Assault & Title IX. This page features a primer on the subject, links to recent news coverage and reports, plus Five Questions to Ask, a must-read before you start doing interviews for any sexual-assault story. Also, check out EWA Public Editor Emily Richmond’s Title IX explainer. It features a link to a Chronicle of Higher Education tool listing colleges under federal Title IX investigation.

Legal background on Title IX:

  • This 2011 “ Dear Colleague” letter established the Obama administration’s policy on campus sexual assault investigations. (If you don’t have time to read the entire 19-page letter, check out explainers by the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed .)

  • The National Association of College and University Attorneys published a white paper on sexual assault investigations.

  • The American Association of University Professors published a critique: “The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX ” and has issued a set of recommendations.

  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recently released an analysis of the “due process” rules used by 53 of the nation’s top colleges, such as whether those accused of assault are given the presumption of innocence by college investigators and adjudicators.

  • Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik urges reporters to remember that Title IX is a federal law, and that many states have additional laws addressing similar issues. Changes to federal law won’t change the rules governing campus sexual assaults in states such California or New York, he notes. So you’ll want to check with someone familiar with your state laws.

Want more how-to advice from journalists who’ve worked on this difficult subject? Watch former Associated Press reporter Justin Pope talk about his award-winning coverage of Title IX issues. Or, in this podcast, Politico’s Ben Wermund puts Title IX in a national political context. For lessons learned from the Rolling Stone debacle, listen to this episode of the EWA Radio podcast featuring Bruce Shapiro of the Dart Center on Journalism and Trauma.