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Betsy DeVos Has Radically Reduced Protections for Survivors of Campus Sexual Violence

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September 23, 2017
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Photo by: Gage Skidmore

The Trump administration this week unleashed yet another attack on a vulnerable population.

The Department of Education has released Title IX interim guidance that places new and heavy burdens on students who have experienced sexual violence, and sends a harmful and dangerous message to students that the federal government does not have their back. 

The interim guidance allows schools to impose a higher burden of proof for survivors of sexual assault, and also allows perpetrators of violence to seek appeals while denying the victims the same opportunity. Previous guidance stated there was to be a lower burden of proof required for a student to prove a case of sexual assault against another student than there would be for a student to prove other cases of misconduct against another student. This new guidance shamelessly posits that sexual misconduct should be treated with the same procedures as, say, theft.

LGBTQ students experience a disproportionate rate of sexual assault, with three out of four LGBTQ students reporting having experienced sexual harassment in the 2015 Association of American Universities Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Additionally, 9% of LGBTQ-identifying respondents said they experienced sexual assault involving penetration.

The drastic reduction of critical protections for survivors of sexual violence will compromise their rights, and the impact will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences on their lives.

Students should be able to count on their schools’ support to protect their safety and ensure that they have an equal chance at an education. The 2011 and 2014 guidance documents – that were changed by this week’s new guidance – helped schools understand their duty to respond to sexual violence.

But thankfully, this misguided agency action does not change the law.

Regardless of what Betsy DeVos does or does not do, Title IX continues to protect LGBTQ students and survivors of sexual assault. This week’s move will only make it harder as a practical matter for students to enforce their legal rights, meaning that schools will be less safe for LGBTQ students – and all students.

This is another unjustifiable step backward by Donald Trump’s callous and unthinking administration.

Lambda Legal calls on schools to continue complying with Title IX, and we stand ready to enforce those protections. The Education Department will likely next engage in rule making around this guidance. Lambda Legal will stay abreast of any news relating to this subject, and we urge all survivors and anyone who considers themself an ally of survivors to keep an eye out for the opportunity to comment on any new regulations.