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Did the 2011 DCL Contribute to University Failures in Staff-on-Student Sex Scandals?

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Did the 2011 DCL Contribute to University Failures in Staff-on-Student Sex Scandals?


April 26, 2021

Much has been written about the failures of the Dear Colleague Letter issued by the Department of Education in 2011, including:

  1. No demonstrated improvement in the reporting of sexual assault
  2. An increase in the rate of sexual assaults
  3. Lawsuits by wrongfully accused students
  4. Millions of dollars spent by university Title IX programs

Three highly publicized cases of staff-on-student sexual abuse suggest another shortcoming of the DCL policy:

Michigan State University: “The U.S. Education Department fined Michigan State University $4.5 million in September for failing to respond to sexual assault complaints against Nassar. The same day, MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. announced the resignation of Provost June Youatt, saying the investigation findings showed she and former President Lou Anna Simon “failed to take appropriate action on behalf of the university to address reports of inappropriate behavior and conduct.” according to an account of the incident.”

University of Southern California: “Since the release of the initial Los Angeles Times article published on May 16, 2018, hundreds of USC students and alumni have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse, assault, battery, and harassment. Over the years, many patients reported that Tyndall was unprofessional, creepy, or made them feel “uncomfortable and violated.” There were multiple requests to change providers and not see Tyndall again. Complaints were generally addressed internally by USC Engemann Student Health Center executive director, Larry Neinstein.”

UCLA: “James Heaps, 67, a one-time gynecologist who is at the center of the scandal at UCLA, also still faces criminal charges for his actions during his 1983-2019 career at the university, in its student health center and at its medical center. The Los Angeles Times reported that the doctor was first arrested  in June 2019 for sexually touching two patients in 2017….The UC system said that it has improved procedures and will undertake more reforms as part of the class-action settlement, the newspaper reported:

“UCLA agreed to create a new process for investigating allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct. It must also implement a formal chaperone policy for patients. It must also initiate a training program on boundaries and ensure that patients are informed about reporting misconduct.”

While the staffers’ sexual abuse of students began during the years prior to the issuance of the 2011 DCL, university officials consistently failed to take appropriate actions in response to student complaints made during the years following release of the DCL. This reveals that the Dear Colleague Letter did not improve university responses to complaints of staff-on-student sexual abuse. Indeed, the hysteria about student-on-student sexual assault, which permeated campuses during the past decade, may have diverted attention from the burgeoning problem of staff-on-student sexual abuse.