OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY
harassment and violence also are concerns for school districts. The Title IX obligations discussed in this letter apply equally to school districts unless otherwise noted.
Title IX Requirements Related to Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence
Schools’ Obligations to Respond to Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence
Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It includes unwelcome
sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or
physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment
prohibited by Title IX.9
As explained in OCR’s 2001 Guidance, when a student sexually harasses another student, the harassing conduct creates a hostile environment if the conduct is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s program. The more severe the conduct, the less need there is to show a repetitive series of incidents to prove a hostile environment, particularly if the harassment is physical. Indeed, a single or isolated incident of sexual harassment may create a hostile environment if the incident is sufficiently severe. For instance, a single instance of rape is sufficiently severe to create a hostile environment.10
IX also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal,
nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex
or sex-stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual
nature. The Title IX obligations discussed in this letter also apply to gender-based
harassment. Gender-based harassment is discussed in more detail in the 2001
Guidance, and in the 2010 Dear Colleague letter on Harassment and Bullying,
which is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201010.pdf.
10 See, e.g., Jennings v. Univ. of N.C., 444 F.3d 255, 268, 274 n.12 (4th Cir. 2006) (acknowledging that while not an issue in this case, a single incident of sexual assault or rape could be sufficient to raise a jury question about whether a hostile environment exists, and noting that courts look to Title VII cases for guidance in analyzing Title IX sexual harassment claims); Vance v. Spencer Cnty. Pub. Sch. Dist., 231 F.3d 253, 259 n.4 (6th Cir. 2000) (“‘[w]ithin the context of Title IX, a student’s claim of hostile environment can arise from a single incident’” (quoting Doe v. Sch. Admin. Dist. No. 19, 66 F. Supp. 2d 57, 62 (D. Me. 1999))); Soper v. Hoben,195 F.3d 845, 855 (6th Cir. 1999) (explaining that rape and sexual abuse “obviously qualif[y] as…severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive sexual harassment”); see also Berry v. Chi. Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 692 (7th Cir. 2010) (in the Title VII context, “a single act can create a hostile environment if it is severe enough, and instances of uninvited physical contact with intimate parts of the body are among the most severe types of sexual harassment”); Turner v. Saloon, Ltd.,595 F.3d 679, 686 (7th Cir. 2010) (noting that “‘[o]ne instance of conduct that is sufficiently severe may be enough,’” which is “especially true when the touching is of an intimate body part” (quoting Jackson v. Cnty. of Racine,474 F.3d 493, 499 (7th Cir. 2007))); McKinnis v. Crescent Guardian, Inc., 189 F. App’x 307, 310 (5th Cir. 2006) (holding that “‘the deliberate and unwanted touching of [a plaintiff’s] intimate body parts can constitute severe sexual harassment’” in Title VII cases (quoting Harvill v. Westward Commc’ns, L.L.C., 433 F.3d 428, 436 (5th Cir. 2005))).