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Don't Roll Back Campus Sexual Assault Protections

Earlier this month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Department of Education would be rewriting Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual assault. The Department of Education has authority over how sexual assault cases are handled on college campuses through Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972. While this law is best known for allowing women and girls to play high school and college sports, it also explicitly prohibits any school that receives federal funds from discriminating based on gender. Since 1976, that has included preventing and addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault.

In 2011, the Department of Education issued what was known as a “Dear Colleague” letter, in which university officials were notified that they would be investigated for mishandling sexual assault cases. In her speech, Betsy DeVos stated, “The era of ‘rule by letter’ is over. Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach. With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.” DeVos then announced that the Department would open the issue up for comment, which is the first step in potentially writing new regulations for campus sexual assault guidelines.

Sexual violence on college campuses has long been a problem in the United States. 23.1% of female undergraduate college students and 5.4% of male students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Sexual violence is often not reported to campus law enforcement, with only 20% of female student victims aged 18 to 24 making a report to law enforcement. This means that a shocking 80% of rapes and sexual assaults on college campuses are not reported and never investigated. The 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter sought to change this by informing colleges, universities, and K-12 schools that they have a legal responsibility under Title IX to respond to allegations of sexual assault promptly and fairly. The letter also set forth guidelines for handling these allegations.

In July, Secretary DeVos met with a number of groups to discuss Title IX, including survivors of sexual assault — and those who claim that they have been falsely accused of sexual assault. She also met with the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group whose leader has blamed victims of domestic violence for their own abuse. One chapter of the National Coalition of Men maintained a website where it had the names and photographs of women that it claimed falsely accused men of rape. By meeting with these groups, Secretary DeVos sent a signal to survivors that she does not intend to protect them — or to enforce their rights under Title IX.

Rolling back or weakening the protections of Title IX will hurt sexual assault survivors. All students who are victims of a crime on a college campus deserve to have their cases fairly adjudicated. Under Title IX, all students have the right to receive an education free from sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Title IX system is not “broken.” There is not an epidemic of false reporting; instead, the vast majority of campus sexual assaults (80%) go unreported. The Title IX guidelines are necessary to protect victims of sexual violence and to ensure that our college campuses and K-12 schools are safe for all students. Removing these requirements would be a massive step backwards in the fight to end sexual violence in our schools.

The United States Department of Education is currently receiving comments on Title IX and other Department of Education policies through WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER, 20, with a second round of comments expected to open in the future. Make your voice heard on why Title IX protections are important to you by leaving a comment through the link above.

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