September 07, 2018

Gillibrand, McCaskill Call On Betsy Devos And Trump Administration To Delay Releasing Any New Title IX Rule Until Meeting With Sexual Assault Survivors

Proposed New Title IX Rule Will Reportedly Weaken Critical Protections for Survivors of Sexual Assault; According to Reports, DeVos and Trump Administration Have Had Limited Engagement with Sexual Assault Survivors and Universities that Have Already Successfully Implemented Changes to Improve Their Response to Complaints of Sexual Assault and Harassment

Washington, DC –  U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) called on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration to get additional input from sexual assault survivors prior to releasing its proposed new rule on Title IX. The Administration is expected to release its new rule soon, and according to reports from the past year, Secretary DeVos has prioritized meeting with students accused of sexual assault, and has had limited engagement with survivors or universities who have already implemented policies to improve their responses to complaints of sexual misconduct. Last Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the new rule could narrow the definition of sexual harassment, which would likely end up limiting the number of claims that meet the standard of sexual misconduct and reducing the amount of assistance available to students in need.

"All students deserve a safe and healthy educational environment, yet the number of sexual assaults at educational institutions remains unacceptably high," the Senators wrote. "Sexual misconduct and violence at educational institutions is a serious matter that can result in a severe negative physical and psychological impact on victims.  We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that any proposed rule upholds the civil rights protections for survivors of sexual harassment and assault while holding institutions accountable for student safety.  Further, we request that you delay the release of the proposed rule until your offices have fully engaged with and taken into account the perspective of all stakeholders.  This input is critical to ensuring that any proposed rules regarding Title IX takes into account the needs of survivors and provides clear, streamlined information to institutions to fully investigate and respond to, and prevent future misconduct from taking place."

Gillibrand and McCaskill are the lead sponsors of the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act legislation to combat sexual violence on college campuses. In May 2018, Gillibrand and McCaskill wrote a letter calling out Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for rolling back Title IX protections and demanding the Department of Education release detailed information on all Title IX cases. Gillibrand and McCaskill’s May letter came following reports that under DeVos’s leadership, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is dismissing civil rights cases that they consider burdensome.

The text of the Senators’ letter is available here and below:

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202

The Honorable Mick Mulvaney

Director

Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street NW

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Secretary DeVos and Director Mulvaney,

We write today to express our concern regarding recent reports that the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) intends to move forward with a proposed rule to rollback long-fought protections for victims of sexual assault at educational institutions.  We are deeply concerned that the release of this proposed rule is contrary to the efforts of previous Administrations and individual institutions who have sought to provide protections to victims of sexual assault and harassment, and to ensure educational institutions properly investigate all complaints of sexual misconduct.  All students deserve a safe and healthy educational environment, yet the number of sexual assaults at educational institutions remains unacceptably high.

Under current federal law, all institutions of higher education must protect students from sexual harassment, assault, and similar offenses.  These institutions must also publicly disclose and promptly investigate sexual assaults when they occur.  However, independent studies have found that sexual assaults and similar crimes are widely underreported.  The Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which enforces and investigates all violations of Title IX on college campuses, has warned that too many colleges fail to meet their obligations to prevent and address sexual assaults.

According to reports however, the proposed rule will weaken protections for survivors of sexual assault and place additional burdens on survivors by not requiring investigations into off-campus incidences of sexual assault and harassment and abandoning the requirement that institutions have an appeals process.  We are also concerned by reports that the proposed rule will require adoption of an extremely narrow definition of sexual harassment that has previously been reserved for repeated complaints or particularly egregious allegations.  Adoption of this narrow definition will likely end up limiting the number of complaints that meet the standard of sexual misconduct, affecting the assistance available to students in need and restricting schools’ reporting requirements.  

These concerns are further exacerbated by reports that the proposed rule has been developed with limited input from sexual violence survivor organizations and institutions who have voluntarily implemented changes to improve their responses to complaints of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct.  We are concerned that without robust engagement from key stakeholders, the Department’s proposed rule will make it more difficult to hold institutions accountable for fully investigating all claims of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct and ensuring that all students have a safe learning environment.

Sexual misconduct and violence at educational institutions is a serious matter that can result in a severe negative physical and psychological impact on victims.  We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that any proposed rule upholds the civil rights protections for survivors of sexual harassment and assault while holding institutions accountable for student safety.  Further, we request that you delay the release of the proposed rule until your offices have fully engaged with and taken into account the perspective of all stakeholders.  This input is critical to ensuring that any proposed rules regarding Title IX takes into account the needs of survivors and provides clear, streamlined information to institutions to fully investigate and respond to, and prevent future misconduct from taking place.

Sincerely,

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