By Chisa Chevernick, HR Consultant
The administrative suspension of Urban Meyer by The Ohio State University and its investigation into whether or not he fulfilled his duty to report allegations of domestic violence against Coach Zach Smith in 2015 is set to wrap up this week. While we await the facts of the investigation, and its consequences, to become public, it is difficult to speculate what Meyer’s future holds as OSU’s head football coach. In the meantime, what is Title IX, and did Meyer have a duty to report?
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance, including athletic programs, admissions and financial aid, and extracurricular activities. Title IX’s sexual discrimination protections extend to incidents of sexual misconduct and assault, including intimate partner violence. The university is required to conduct an impartial investigation into all reports or complaints of sexual misconduct, under the guidance and responsibility of the Title IX Coordinator. All “responsible employees” have an imposed duty to report such incidents and allegations. A “responsible employee” is any employee given a duty to report student misconduct by the university or any employee a student may reasonably believe has that authority or responsibility.
OSU’s sexual misconduct policy defines an employee with a duty to report as anyone who supervises faculty, staff, students, or volunteers. These employees are obligated to report, within 5 work days of becoming aware, any information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that sexual misconduct may have occurred involving anyone covered under the policy. Meyer’s contract further clarifies that his duty to report extends to incidents involving “any student, faculty or staff”, and that such reports must be made to OSU’s Title IX Coordinator for Athletics. Meyer’s Twitter statement confirms that he was aware of this incident in 2015, and he states he fulfilled his duty to report following proper protocol at that time. It will be difficult for Meyer to demonstrate that he followed reporting protocol, or had a reasonable belief that he did, unless he reported the incident to OSU’s Title IX Coordinator for Athletics.
Does Title IX Apply?
The broader question is whether or not Title IX was meant to apply to incidents such as these while 1) Smith was a university employee, 2) his wife was not a student, faculty member, or in any way affiliated with OSU, except by means of Smith’s coaching position, and 3) the incident appears unconnected to educational or extracurricular activity sponsored by OSU. While some may argue that imposing a duty to report in such circumstances is an overreach of Title IX, I vehemently disagree – circumstances such as these are entirely within the scope and purpose of Title IX.
Title IX was enacted in 1972 with its stated purpose, to prohibit discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity that is federally funded. That means, amongst other things, taking swift and appropriate action to prevent the kind of hostile environment that sexual harassment and sexual violence creates for women on college campuses. If there’s anything the #metoo movement has demonstrated, it’s that sexual violence is rampant, not just on college campuses, not just in the workplace, but in the daily lives of women, regardless of race, income level, education, etc. The perpetrators of these crimes are our intimate partners, our friends, our teachers, our employers.
The perpetrators of these crimes are our intimate partners, our friends, our teachers, our employers.
Sexual assault and intimate partner violence are the only crimes where concern is immediately raised for the assailant’s future and reputation while the victim’s veracity is questioned and their reputation dragged through the mud. Sexual assault is often labeled a “mistake”, and “wouldn’t it be a shame if that young assailant’s life was ruined by one error in judgment?” Let’s be clear, intimate partner violence and sexual assault are not “mistakes” – they are violent crimes committed through deliberate acts that leave victims with emotional and physical scars for the rest of their lives.
For instance, Brock Turner was portrayed favorably in the media. His Stanford swimming career was often referenced in news articles. Instead of his mug shot, we saw photos of a clean-cut, “upstanding” young man whose Olympic dreams were in ruin. Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, with witness corroboration, and was only sentenced to 6 months jail, serving just 3, with an accompanying statement of “concern” by the judge that a prison sentence “would have a severe impact on [Turner].”
What about the impact to his victim? It’s not just our universities failing us, it’s our criminal justice system. It’s a society that has an abundance of sympathy for a convicted rapist because he made a “mistake” but cruelly condemns an addict fighting their disease because they “chose” their path – we hold addicts fighting a disease to a higher standard of responsibility than men committing heinous and violent crimes against women; we condemn addiction as a deliberate choice and excuse violent crimes against women as a mistake. “Boys will be boys.”
Add to this the prevalence of sexual and intimate partner violence in professional, college, and high school athletics. A Northeastern University study conducted in the 90s, the results of which were corroborated in a 2016 study published by Violence Against Women, concluded that while male student athletes account for only 3% of the student population, they perpetrate 19% of sexual assaults and 35% of domestic assaults. The NFL routinely drafts players facing allegations of violence against women. Ray Rice received only a two-game suspension after beating his wife unconscious in a casino elevator – with video.
Women who report assaults by athletes are often harassed, shunned, and verbally assaulted by fans for “ruining” athletes’ lives and hurting the team’s chances for the season. Many are forced to drop out of school or transfer after being victimized a second time by the public just for seeking appropriate remedy under the law for an act of violence committed against them. The fallacy that false reports of sexual assault against athletes is common is just that, a fallacy. Few women are willing to subject themselves to this level of hostility and public scrutiny to report a legitimate assault; the number of women willing to subject themselves to this kind of treatment for “attention” is negligible.
In the case of Meyer, an administrative suspension is not a punishment – it’s a means used by countless organizations to ensure a thorough and fair investigation is completed without the possibility of influence, intentional or otherwise, from an involved party. If Meyer is found to have met his obligations under Title IX, OSU policy, and his contract, he will be returned to his role. But, as is the case for any leader within any organization made aware of a potential violation of a Sexual Harassment and Discrimination policy, it is not Meyer’s job to determine whether an allegation is true, credible, or relevant – that is the responsibility of the Title IX Coordinator (or your HR Department). Meyer’s job is to report an allegation, once aware, to the Title IX Coordinator so that they can conduct an impartial investigation and make a determination based on facts and law.
The Title IX Coordinator, or your HR professional, has the training, education, and experience to make legally sound decisions after conducting a thorough, impartial investigation. Unfortunately, the manager who fails to report such allegations, who makes a unilateral decision whether an allegation is legitimate or not, often finds themselves accountable under their company’s corrective action policies. Until we all start taking intimate partner and sexual violence more seriously, we will continue to need laws like Title IX to hold institutions accountable to address these violent behaviors.
The following are statistics that help illustrate the importance of these issues. In the US*:
- Nearly 20 people per minute, on average, are physically abused by an intimate partner.
- 1 in 4 women (1 in 7 men) will experience severe intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Globally, 70% of women worldwide experience physical or sexual abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- More than 20,000 calls are place to domestic violence hotlines per day
- 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are female.
- Women are 5.5 times more likely than men to experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime; only 1 in 4 incidents of domestic violence that involve physical assault are reported to police.
- The number of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001-2012 was 6,488; the number of American women who were murdered by a current or former male intimate partner during that time was 11,766.
- Men who are exposed to domestic violence as a child are up to 4 times more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence as an adult.
In the workplace*:
- Between 2003-2008, 78% of women killed in the workplace were murdered by their abuser.
- 1 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence is not the partner themselves but a family member, neighbor, coworker, friend, or bystander.
- Victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work each year due to intimate partner violence (roughly the equivalent of 32,000 full time jobs).
- 21-60% of victims lose their jobs for reasons stemming from abuse.
If you are one of the more than 70% of US workplaces that do not have a formal policy or program in place to address workplace violence, I urge you to contact AnthonyHR or your internal HR department today.
If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, or believe someone you know is at risk, please reach out for help. You don’t have to face this alone.
Choices Domestic Violence Shelter 24-hour crisis line: 614-224-HOME (4663)
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 866-331-9474
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)