When Girls Become Witches: Survivors, Title IX and Society

They say they fear a witch-hunt, yet have never been the witches; even as we step forward to accuse them, that burden still falls upon us.

When Girls Become Witches: Survivors, Title IX and Society
The Women’s March in Oakland in 2017. (Terrie Schweitzer / Flickr)

Editor’s note: On Monday, the Department of Education began five days of public hearings, in which 600 individuals will testify on ways to improve Title IX enforcement. The hearings follow a directive from President Biden to re-examine the controversial regulations put in place by the Trump administration.


Back when they used to hang us or burn us at the stake, they would accuse us of kidnapping children to use in our diabolical practices. We still take their sons today; we steal and ruin the lives of nice boys with bright futures, place curses upon them with our words. That’s how they see it—maleficium. We are witches. We are victims, we are survivors, we are people, we are nice girls with bright futures. But what does that matter? We are witches.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, there have been a growing number of complaints from a number of disgruntled men about a “witch-hunt.” The term is sharp, but not terribly uncommon these days. It is a staple of the American lexicon, perhaps illustrated best by the nearly 400 times the word was used on former President Trump’s now-defunct Twitter. They say they fear a witch-hunt, yet have never been the witches; even as we step forward to accuse them, that burden still falls upon us. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, some claim they feel endangered by the idea of false accusations, although it is estimated that a minuscule percentage of reported rape accusations are false.

It seems their cries were heard when the Trump administration revised Title IX last year. Former Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos claimed the changes made to Title IX would “[restore] balance to the scales of justice.” Survivors can now be put on trial—the new regulations allow us to be cross-examined—and requirements for evidence have been permitted to rise. Character evidence is not legally admissible in court, but it was allowed in 17th century Salem and still affects many cases today, both inside and outside the courtroom.

When Girls Become Witches: Survivors, Title IX and Society
A black-and-white portion from the painting “Witch Hill (The Salem Martyr).” (Wikimedia Commons)

We are subject to the judgment of others, who want to know what we were wearing or if we were drinking … if we are sluts, if we are liars, if we deserved it. It is as if they are scouring our bodies and souls in search of evidence that we’ve dealt with the devil. There is a stigma attached to survivors, to what happened to us, to us speaking out. For most of us, it is easier to not report at all—it is estimated only 20 percent of collegiate women report their experiences of assault, and that number may drop even further under the new regulations.

Simply restoring Title IX to its prior state is not enough, though the way the regulations have been implemented means it will likely take over a year to do even that. What we truly need is a combined governmental and societal shift that protects us before and after an assault. We need policy that maintains the rights of victims, offers adequate protection, and facilitates processes that minimize the trauma of the reporting process. An Equal Rights Amendment could certainly be beneficial, but we have been waiting for so long it feels ratification may never come to fruition


Simply restoring Title IX to its prior state is not enough. What we truly need is a combined governmental and societal shift that protects us before and after an assault.


The Department of Education can do more as well. In high school, I was taught in health class how to avoid getting roofied. I was taught in gym class how to put up a fight against a much stronger hypothetical rapist. I don’t know how much that helped me. I am not the first to propose it, but what if instead of focusing so much on teaching girls how to avoid sexual assault, we taught boys not to be sex offenders? This strategy, however, would mean acknowledging that some of those nice boys with bright futures could turn into rapists. Our society will need to change the way it looks at us before it will be capable of changing the way it looks at them. #MeToo was just one battle in a revolution with no end yet in sight. We must build a system in which we feel safe and comfortable coming forward with our stories, not silenced by an invisible noose tightening around our necks as the god-fearing stand aside and watch the victims vainly kicking our legs in the breeze. Whose hands bear the stain of our blood? 

What of the Puritans, for that matter? If you are not the witch, not the magistrate, not the one pointing and screaming, what business of yours is it? The trials in Salem did not end until the governor of Massachusetts sought to protect his own wife, who was being questioned for witchcraft. Will you wait until you or someone close to you becomes a survivor? The most important action for the common non-witch citizen is to become civically active. It is likely that replacing the Title IX regulations of Trump and DeVos will include a long period for public commentary, so comment. Write to officials, vocalize, uplift and support survivors, vote as if we are not witches but people, because we are.


The trials in Salem did not end until the governor of Massachusetts sought to protect his own wife, who was being questioned for witchcraft. Will you wait until you or someone close to you becomes a survivor?


As for us, what else is there to resort to but witchcraft? We must be witches; we have been given no other choice. We form covens of support, chant our incantations of “be careful, text me when you’re home safe,” clutch potions of pepper spray tightly as we walk down the street in the dark.

We are not witches, but I think I would be if given the chance, and I think others would be, too. If society refuses to help us, how could we turn down the opportunity to conjure something to help ourselves? It won’t really matter if they condemn us to hell, for we have already been through it. 

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About

Catherine M. Feldkamp is a rising junior studying political science at The Ohio State University. Her passion for Title IX was ignited further after she found herself filing a claim in autumn of 2020 under the new regulations that stack the deck against survivors. She plans to pursue a career in politics and law after graduating.