DeVos Sued for Discriminating Against Student Survivors of Sexual Assault

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) together with co-counsel Democracy Forward, National Center for Youth Law, and Equal Rights Advocates, filed suit in the Northern District of California to challenge Education Secretary DeVos’ discriminatory 2017 Title IX policy on sexual misconduct in schools.

“The new policy discriminates against women and girls and makes it harder for them to learn in a safe environment,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the President of the NWLC. Fatima also released a statement declaring that the new guidance will have a “devastating impact on students and schools.”

The lawsuit will show how the Department based its new Title IX policy on sexist stereotypes and put forth an illegal policy without following the proper procedures. “We will not accept Secretary DeVos making it harder for survivors to have equal access to education.” says Laura L. Dunn, Esq., Executive Director of SurvJustice. “We should be making it easier, not harder, for survivors to speak out, and we’re committed to fighting this unconstitutional action by the Trump Administration.”

In September, DeVos’ Education Department ignored the hundreds of thousands of people who submitted comments urging them to keep the Obama-era Title IX guidance intact, and instead issued new interim guidance that seemed to ignore the concerns of survivors.

The Department of Education rescinded the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence, which “informed more than 7,000 colleges that receive federal money to use the lowest possible standard of proof, a preponderance of evidence, in sexual assault cases.” The letter required universities to allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings. It also told schools to accelerate their adjudications, with a recommended 60-day time limit for resolving investigations.

The Department also rescinded the 2014 guidance document, which gave schools additional guidance concerning their new obligations to protect survivors of campus sexual assault and work to reduce the high levels of sexual violence on college campuses.

DeVos’ new 2017 guidance did away with the 60-day guideline for resolving investigations, allowing schools to draw out the process and unnecessarily delay resolution of sexual misconduct complaints. It also allows schools to impose a clear and convincing evidence standard to the grievance procedures, giving the alleged perpetrator, and the perpetrator only, the presumption of truth.

Shockingly, DeVos’ decision to rescind the Obama-era policies was largely informed by men’s right activists who claimed to be victims of false rape accusations.

One in five women and one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted while in college, and 90 percent of survivors will never report the attack. “It’s not equitable for the department to meet with the ‘wrongly accused’ for 90 minutes because these men’s rights activists are speaking on behalf of the statistic that 2 to 8 percent are wrongly accuses,” said Fabiana Diaz, a 23-year-old survivor of sexual assault who was also allotted only 90 minutes to speak with DeVos. “It’s simply not equitable.”

“Through this action, we are left wondering whether Secretary DeVos takes equal access to education for survivors seriously. For many, of course, sexual violence is deadly serious,” testified Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy and Research at FMF, at an Education Department hearing. “By withdrawing the 2011 and 2014 guidance, the Administration has unfortunately sent the message that women’s education is disposable. They can either put up with sexual violence or get out.”



Media Resources: New York Times 1/25/18; NWLC 1/25/18; Washington Post 1/31/17; Huffington Post 7/14/17

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