Sex is one of the most difficult topics that journalists cover. Make the topic allegations of sexual misconduct or assault involving students at a school, and the emotions — and risks — become especially intense.
So journalists covering Title IX — the federal law that bans discrimination based on sex in education programs — should be especially careful.
The Title IX law itself seems brief and unremarkable: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
But that simple language has sparked white-hot controversies involving everything from school athletic programs to treatment of pregnant and and transgender students, and, especially noteworthy, sexual harassment and assault allegations.
Among the important minefields journalists covering these issues need to navigate:
- Politics: The rules governing how schools and colleges should enforce Title IX and investigate allegations of discrimination have swung with the political winds. The Biden Administration has announced plans to rewrite the 2020, Trump Administration rules, which were significantly different from the Obama Administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter. Among the major differences: the balance of rights and protections awarded the accused and the accuser and transgender students.
- Data: There is much debate over data showing the prevalence (or lack thereof) of sexual assaults in educational settings, as well as the impact of Title IX on spending on different sports.
- Journalistic approaches: When reporting on sexual assault, journalists have to balance two conflicting maxims: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out,” and “Believe women.” There is an ugly history of false rape allegations against racial minorities. There is also a long history of destructive disbelief of victims’ allegations, especially claims made by children and women.
To help journalists cover these important but difficult stories, EWA has gathered a curated list of reporting tips, key coverage and other resources.
Updated June 2021