Survivor advocacy groups filed a suit yesterday to block Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s new Title IX rules that weaken protections for survivors.
The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and another law firm, argue that the new rules make it harder for survivors to report sexual assault and harassment. The plaintiffs hope to block the rules from taking place starting Aug. 14.
DeVos released the final rules on May 6 despite schools being already overwhelmed with the current pandemic. Before the release, three Senators and 18 state attorneys general had urged the Department of Education (DOE) to delay the release.
Devos’s rules limit the definition of sexual harassment, allowing students to file Title IX claims only when harassment is so severe that is impedes their access to education. New rules also requires survivors be cross-examined by advisers of the accused, a potentially traumatic experience for survivors. The DOE estimates that four-year colleges and universities will investigate one-third fewer reports.
The plaintiffs are specifically suing over provisions that limit the definition of sexual harassment, limit the geographical location in which schools are required to investigate harassment and assault, allow school officials not to report sexual misconduct, and allow schools to use a higher standard of proof for Title IX claims.
The new rules are detrimental to survivors, who are often women and girls, according to Ria Mar, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
“Betsy DeVos has created a double standard that is devastating for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, who are overwhelmingly women and girls. We are suing to make sure this double standard never takes effect,” Mar said.
When the DOE previously revealed draft rules, the department received feedback from colleges and universities across the country criticizing the rules. However, if the lawsuit does not successfully block the rules before the Aug. 14 deadline, universities must comply or risk losing federal funding.
The DOE’s new Title IX regulations can be damaging to students’ access to a safe learning environment, according to Ashley Sawyer, policy director of Girls for Gender Equity.
“The new Title IX regulations are a blatant threat to the years of work to create safe, supportive academic environments for students across the gender spectrum,” Sawyer said.
Sources: ACLU 05/14/2020; NBC News 05/06/2020; Inside Higher Ed 05/14/2020