A lawsuit filed in federal district court seeks to reverse new campus sexual assault policies issued by federal Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The lawsuit argues that new federal guidance on Title IX law issued by DeVos in September discriminates against survivors of sexual violence on campus.
The lawsuit it says the guidance is based on stereotypes involving the credibility of women who report sexual violence, citing statements made by Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, who blamed most campus sexual assaults on drunkenness.
DeVos in September rescinded two guidance documents issued by the Obama administration in 2011 and 2014 that survivor advocates say were critical for getting new protections on campus.
The Department of Education at the same time issued a set of interim guidelines for colleges and universities on the handling of sexual harassment and assault. It said it would eventually issue a new federal regulation on Title IX gender discrimination, although few details have emerged since.
A group of civil rights advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the Education secretary, challenging the department’s move to roll back Obama-era guidelines on how colleges and universities should handle sexual assault and sexual violence.
Three public interest law groups brought the lawsuit on behalf of SurvJustice, Equal Rights Advocates and the Victim Rights Law Center.
In a press conference, leaders of the groups said the Obama-era policy included critical protections for survivors of sexual assault, and that the Department’s guidance under DeVos had produced a “chilling effect” on survivors coming forward.
Stacy Malone, the executive director of the Victim Rights Law Center, said that before Obama issued the 2011 guidance, sexual assault survivors “did not feel like they had a voice on the own campus.” Since the Education Department rescinded that guidance, she said, survivors are back at square one.
“We will not accept Secretary DeVos making it harder for survivors to have equal access to education,” says Laura L. Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, a nonprofit that works with survivors of sexual assault on campus. “We’ve heard directly from student survivors who are questioning whether it’s even worth reporting sexual violence and abuse because of the new Title IX policy. 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.”
A Department of Education spokeswoman said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
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