Guest Voices: A survivor’s perspective on changes to Title IX policies


Alexis Taranto

Title IX Guest Voices logo created by Alexis Taranto

By Rylee Napolitan

I was 15 the first time I was sexually assaulted. It happened again when I was 18, just three weeks before I was supposed to start my first year at Chatham University. Both times, I knew my abusers; one of them was one of my best friends. Both times, I was under the influence. Both times, I didn’t report.

What happened to me was awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Unfortunately, it happens more than we’d like to think. We never want to imagine something so terrible happening to the people we care about, or even worse, to ourselves.

Before it happened, I swore up and down that it would never happen to me, that I would never let it happen. And after it happened the first time, I swore it would never happen again — but it did.

The thing is, most of the women in my life have a story like mine, and sadly, most of their stories end in a similar way: unreported.

According to statistics from RAINN, “One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.”

Women who are college students between the ages of 18 and 24 are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence; women who are in the same age bracket but not enrolled in college are four times more likely. Only 20% of female student victims report to law enforcement, and only 4% feel comfortable enough to report at all.

Chatham has given me the space, over the last year, to find a supportive community of people. I am grateful to have come here and met some of the incredible students and faculty within our community because they gave me support and validation in a time when I needed it the most.

But for Chatham and other universities to expect that victims will come forward in light of the updated Title IX laws is asking too much.

The new regulations, known as the “Final Rule,” offer procedural changes and increased protections of all parties involved in sexual harassment investigations. Chatham began operating under these new policies Aug. 14, as required by the Department of Education. The regulations change the definition of the umbrella term “sexual harassment” used in the Title IX policies. Sexual harassment is described in three ways by the Final Rule:

  1. “Quid Pro Quo” — An employee of a school conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit or service of the school on an individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct; or
  2. Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity; or
  3. Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence or Stalking (as defined in the Policy).

This definition of sexual harassment is narrower than what was used by Chatham and many other schools prior to the Final Rule. Under former Title IX policies, acts of sexual misconduct were referred to as “prohibited acts.”

We live in a society where our legal system often allows for the perpetrators of these crimes to walk away with a slap on the wrist, regardless of how much evidence remains. If we’ve learned anything from the Brock Turner case back in 2016, which involved a Stanford University student receiving a light sentence for rape, it’s that the legal system’s handling of rape and sexual assault seems like it’s not designed with victims in mind. The same could be said for the updated Title IX laws.

It’s both foolish and disrespectful to believe that the changes made to Title IX laws have been enacted to aid victims when they are not mindful of the safety of students. Instead, it seems like these laws are more so focused on the safety of university reputations: Why would parents knowingly send their children to schools with high instances of sexual assault, harassment and stalking? It could be argued that in this case universities have more to gain from our silence than they do from keeping us safe.

It is terrifying, shameful and traumatic to face your abuser again in any context, let alone in a setting that will determine whether or not you are believed by those in power charged with delivering justice.

We have built a society wherein criticism of how women express themselves runs rampant, and we have normalized pushing the blame onto the woman while excusing the actions of her abuser by saying things like, “Boys will be boys.” We have built a society where women are ostracized for coming forward and asked questions like “How much were you drinking?” and “What were you wearing?” and “Did you say ‘no’?” instead of being met with support.

Regardless of these societal norms and how the system may evolve for better or for worse in the future, I think it’s important to conclude with this: whether or not you report is your choice, and your choice alone.

I have spent the last three years feeling immense guilt and shame for something that was never my fault to begin with, and a lot of that also stems from not speaking out and not reporting. And to anyone who might be struggling with a similar situation right now, I want to remind you that it’s OK and that your feelings are valid.

It has taken me years to finally feel comfortable speaking about and addressing this. To do so in such a public manner like this is something I never would’ve imagined myself doing. But I have decided for me that, while I feel that to go through the process of reporting would do more harm than good, I still have the power of my voice. And I’ve decided that after three and a half years, I’m finally ready to speak my truth.

It’s your story and your voice. You did not have control over what happened to you, but how you use your voice is completely in your control, and no one else gets to make that decision for you. In this case, you are the only person who knows what is best for you. Whichever you choose — to report or not to report — please just remember that you are not alone.



Rylee Napolitan is a member of Chatham University Class of ’23, where she is an English and public relations double major with a minor in pre-law. Napolitan is the business manager for the Communiqué and the publicity editor for Chatham’s literary magazine, The Minor Bird.