“Even though the process is not the friendliest, there is a benefit to reporting,” said Jasmina Viteskic, the Title IX Coordinator for Berkeley Unified School District. “And the counseling component, helping you through it, seeing you after it, is what we want to focus on.”
Viteskic is often in her office at Berkeley High School. After years of discussion with the school district around the appropriate amount of aid students should receive with sexual assault and harassment, Viteskic started on Nov. 29, 2021.
Originally, Title IX had a different purpose. In 1972, Congress enacted Title IX, which prohibited sex-based discrimination in all federally funded educational facilities. In the 1970s, a series of lawsuits argued that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. However, only in 2011 did the Department of Education clearly state that sexual harassment constitutes sex-based discrimination, interfering with students’ education. This began the long ordeal of Title IX being used in colleges, and eventually high schools. However, with the presence of minors, Title IX is more complicated in high schools.
“In high school, the coordinator reaches out to each party; in colleges there are hearings.” Viteskic said. “For Title IX, (the incident) has to be assault, or attempted assault. It has to be severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.”
If an incident meets this criteria, or if it occurred on campus or while the school had reasonable control over you, Title IX must be used. However, “For us, not a lot of cases qualify for Title IX, just because of the definition,” Viteskic said. “Not a lot of (kindergarten through twelfth grade) cases are assault on campus, or severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.” Since cases rarely qualify for Title IX, “We mostly use our California procedure, which is pretty similar.”
The California state law steps are much simpler, though. Viteskic said, “You file a complaint, you get interviewed. Your witnesses get interviewed, the respondent gets interviewed. And then that’s it. We collect all the evidence, there is no like going back and forth, we just issue a determination.”
Even with support throughout the process of filing a Title IX report, the process can be triggering for students. Elise Nudel, president of BHS Stop Harassing, said that the reporting process itself is fairly easy. “But the mental side can take a toll on people,” Nudel said. The process “can bring up a lot of trauma and past emotions that you experienced from whatever happened.”
The steps to the Title IX complaint process are as follows. Report: A Complainant has the right to report, keeping in mind that all staff are mandated reporters. The Respondent will be notified of the complaint. Support: All students affected by sexual harassment, assault, or battery have the right to individualized supportive service. Investigate: The Complainant and Respondent will be notified if the investigation can be taken any further. Each party will be interviewed. Evidence will be collected and taken into consideration, and a draft investigation report will be written up. Evidence Review: Both Complainant and Respondent have a right to review all collected evidence during the investigation. Decision: The Decision Maker will review the Investigation Report and all of the evidence and issue a Determination of Responsibility Report. The Decision Maker cannot be part of the investigation, in order to prevent bias.
“Another aspect of Title IX is social justice,” Viteskic said. While students have a right to tell their story, “it has to be a process where somebody cannot come back and claim retaliation or harassment,” Viteskic said. “It’s a balancing act.”
The rights of the perpetrators of assault spread further. Because public schools are required to provide equal access to education, “Technically you can have someone who goes through the process, gets expelled, and then they return in a year, because they still live in Berkeley, and they have the right to access public education. There is no way to extend the expulsion,” Viteskic said. “You have to navigate between having the victim feel safe … but you also have to provide education to this other person.”
At school, people often automatically believe their friends, rather than the person who experienced harm, according to Nudel. She said that fear is the number one obstacle for a student filing a report.
“A lot of harm is committed by people that are considered popular,” Nudel said. When the perpetrator has a lot of friends, it’s more likely for there to be more of a negative stigma surrounding the survivor. “I think that when people (who) have a higher power commit harm, it’s hard for other people to believe (the accusations of harm),” she said.
“Reporting is something that I really want to emphasize that we’ve done a lot of work to make sure that when kids do report that they are treated with compassion, and that they’re supported through the entire process,” Viteskic said.
Because of this, school involvement and consent education are key. Consent education in BUSD has been criticized widely, resulting in major protests at BHS in Feb. 2020.
However, many are still disappointed today. Rosie Bessette, vice president of the Teen Reproductive Justice Club, wrote to the Jacket that she does think “there has been some change after the walkout. But there is a lot more that needs to happen.”
“What’s really important is reporting.” Viteskic said. “Statistically, it’s really hard to report just because this dramatic thing has happened. And now we have to go through all of this right? To get somewhere. But at the same time, if you do not report, then it’s something that you carry with you by yourself.”