Civil rights groups sue U.S. Education Department over sexual assault policy

Jan. 26, 2018
The groups want to stop the department from rolling back guidelines on how colleges and universities handle sexual assault complaints.

A group of civil rights advocacy groups have sued the U.S. Education Department and its secretary, Betsy Devos, to challenge the department's decision last year to roll back guidelines on how colleges and universities should handle sexual assault and sexual violence.

CNN reports that leaders of the civil rights groups, speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C., asserted that the Department's guidance under DeVos had produced a "chilling effect" on survivors coming forward.

The Obama-era policy that DeVos has rolled back included critical protections for survivors of sexual assault, the leaders say. 

In 2011, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights said that colleges should use the "preponderance of the evidence" when judging sexual violence cases under Title IX, the federal law that protects people from sexual discrimination in education. In September 2017, the Education Department said that colleges and universities could abandon that guidance and use a higher standard, "clear and convincing evidence." 

Stacy Malone, the executive director of the Victim Rights Law Center, says 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 Since the Education Department rescinded that guidance, she says, survivors are back at square one.

"They fear they are no longer able to get a fair shake," she says. "Their reports will not be taken seriously."

In the lawsuit, the groups contend that the Education Department's new rules surrounding sexual violence on campus were built on "unfounded generalizations about women and girls, particularly their credibility regarding reported experiences of sexual harassment, including sexual violence." The groups are calling for the Trump administration's Title IX policy to be vacated.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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