While we recognize that sexual harassment and assault is endemic across the entire Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, the statistics and data used for this brief only include Asian Americans. Therefore, this brief has been titled to reflect that. Within, we include recommendations so that Pacific Islanders can be included in data collection in order to expand our understanding of sexual harassment and assault to the rest of the AAPI community.
As students started school this fall, they had to adjust to learning in a new way in the pandemic. What was lost in the chaos were the new rules for Title IX that went into effect just as the new school year began.
Title IX is a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding. In 1972, Patsy Mink, the first Asian American woman elected to Congress, wrote Title IX based on her experiences of being denied admission to schools and facing employment discrimination based on her sex. On August 14, 2020, the Trump administration’s new Title IX rules weakening protections against sexual harassment in schools went into effect.
Among other changes, the new rules give schools the option to adopt either a lower or a higher standard of proof required to show that an incident of sexual harassment or assault occurred. Before, schools were required to accept a lower standard of evidence to prove that an incident occurred, lowering the burden for a survivor to prove that a sexual assault occurred. The regulations also removed requirements for universities to provide certain services to those who experience sexual violence, such as therapy, medical care, change of living situation, or accommodations with classes.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, the new rules explicitly seek “a reduction in the number of Title IX investigations” schools undertake by making it harder for sexual harassment victims to come forward, requiring schools to ignore victims in many instances when they do ask for help, and denying victims fair treatment when they try to use the system that is supposed to protect them. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) survivors already face a number of increased barriers to obtaining the resources and support they need, such as language barriers or immigration status, and limiting Title IX protections will only further harm against them.
At the same time, the experiences and voices of AAPI survivors of sexual violence and harassment are not often examined or discussed in the discussions about Title IX and data and statistics on the incidences and experiences of sexual harassment and assault with in the AAPI community are limited to Asian Americans, with scant information on Pacific Islanders.
That there are incidents of sexual assault among Pacific Islanders is clear. But what isn’t clear is the emotional and mental impact of incidents of sexual assault and whether these needs are getting met. This is due to a lack of data disaggregated by ethnicity, which would reveal differences among the more than 50 distinct ethnic groups that make up the AAPI identifier. Disaggregated data is particularly important for Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, who often face unique barriers that are invisibilized in the aggregation of data.