Plan To Overhaul Campus Rape Policy 'Undermines' Survivors, Say Advocates


Campaigners say they're prepared to take legal action should the department “pass rules contrary to Title IX.”

On Wednesday, students, parents, educators and advocates delivered more than 105,000 petitions to the U.S. Department of Education to show support for their 2011 directive—a document made to guide school's processes following sexual assault and rape on campus.

On Thursday, from the steps of George Mason University’s law library, those signatures didn’t stop Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from announcing her office’s plans to remove and replace the "Dear College Letter" or DCL.

That directive is a document designed under the administration of President Obama in 2011, to provide guidance for applying Title IX requirements in response to sexual violence at all schools.

But according to Alexandra Brodsky, civil rights attorney, Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and co-founder of Know Your IX, “Betsy DeVos does not have the power to just stand up on a stage and change the law."

“Survivors’ rights are no different…than they were yesterday,” she says.

In following the DCL’s guidance, schools were obligated to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate possible sexual violence, as well as take prompt and actionable steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.

During her speech on Thursday, DeVos attempted to demonstrate a need for procedural overhaul and focused heavily on the idea of due process—a legal rule DeVos said she believes has been jeopardized under the DCL guidance. “One person denied due process is one too many,” she said.

But under the DCL, schools were already required to provide a grievance procedure for students to file complaints of sex discrimination and violence, “which must include an equal opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence.”

“The Dear College letter includes robust protections for students that DeVos entirely ignored and misrepresented in her speech, often criticizing the Dear Colleague for failing to do things that it expressly does,” says Brodsky.

In a statement late Thursday, Liz Hill, press secretary at the US Department of Education said, “Today marks the start of the open and transparent process to replace the current guidance with a workable system that is fair for all students."

She continued: “The 2011 guidance will be replaced, and in the interim, the Department will make clear to schools how to fulfill their current obligations under Title IX. The Office for Civil Rights will work directly with schools to provide support and technical assistance.”

To replace the current guidance, DeVos stated the department will launch a notice-and-comment process, a rule-making procedure under which a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register and is open to comment by the general public. There is currently no timeline for when this process will be launched.

“It’s easy for notice and comment to sound innocuous, but this is the department taking steps necessary to undermine survivors’ rights, and we have every reason to think that they will use that process simply to further their agenda and not actually solicit public feedback,” says Brodsky.

“We know that (the department) has listened to extremists and men’s rights activists. We feel that they have entirely ignored the massive outpouring of support for the Dear Colleague letter that they’ve received…They’ve heard from the public, they just don’t like what we have to say.”

Brodsky says the National Women’s Law Center is prepared to take legal action should the department “pass rules contrary to Title IX.”

For her part, Fatima Goss, the president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center said “Don’t be duped by today’s announcement," according to Politico. "What seems procedural is a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault. It will discourage schools from taking steps to comply with the law.

"It sends a frightening message to all students: Your government does not have your back if your rights are violated. This misguided approach signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug.”

Update Sept. 8 11:37 a.m.: Additional comments from National Women's Law Centre spokesperson confirmed.

Words: Kaylen Ralph
Photo: Getty/Composite