Victim Rights Law Center
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 28, 2020
Trial Date Set in Lawsuit against Betsy DeVos, Dept. of Education over New Federal Rules Meant to Silence Student Reports of Sexual Assault, Harassment
Lawsuit Challenges Title IX Changes Requiring Harmful Processes in K-12 Schools, Colleges
A trial date of October 14 has been set in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos over sweeping Title IX changes that intentionally discourage students nationwide from reporting incidents of sexual violence. The lawsuit is brought by Equal Rights Advocates, Victim Rights Law Center, Legal Voice, and Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
The trial will take place in federal court for the District of Massachusetts, and the outcome will decide whether DeVos’s new Title IX regulations violate federal law. The regulations require schools to implement harmful new processes such as live direct cross-examination of victims that will re-traumatize students who experience sexual assault and harassment. (More new requirements detailed below.) They apply to most schools in the nation, from colleges to elementary schools.
The lawsuit is the first to have a trial date set among many lawsuits against DeVos over the Title IX changes. The plaintiffs argue the changes violate federal law because they undermine the very purpose of the law they regulate, Title IX, a gender discrimination law that requires schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment. If successful at trial, the suit will stop the new rules from being enforced nationwide.
“We are hopeful that this trial will expose that the new regulations do not reduce sexual violence but silence the students who are at the greatest risk for being sexually assaulted – Black women, Native Women and LGTBQI survivors,” said Stacy Malone, Executive Director of the Victim Rights Law Center. “Secretary DeVos should be focused on keeping students safe and engaged in their educations during a pandemic rather than targeting students have been sexually assaulted and stripping them of their rights.”
The regulations roll back civil rights protections for all students, but are especially harmful to students who experience sexual assault or harassment. They:
- Require direct, live cross-examination of the victim by an advisor of the assailant’s/harasser’s choosing (for example, the respondent’s friend, parent, or hired attorney, or even the victim’s angry ex-boyfriend);
- Forbid schools from conducting Title IX investigations of most off-campus incidents, which is where the majority of student sexual assaults occur;
- Require a higher standard of proof for victims in certain cases that make it virtually impossible for victims to prove the incident occurred;
- Allow schools to ignore student complaints of sexual harassment or assault until it becomes “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive,” (as opposed to the previous “severe or pervasive”) a standard determined by school officials without guidance;
- Eliminate deadlines and expand bases for delay, giving assailants and harassers the ability to drag out the investigation, hearing, and appeals processes endlessly to avoid accountability; and
- Allow schools to discipline victims for purportedly making “false statements.”
These changes will have a chilling effect on reporting, making it less likely that children and college students will report incidents and seek safety after experiencing sexual violence at the hands of a fellow student, teacher, or school staff. A reporting freeze and fewer investigations will put all students at risk, as sexual assailants and harassers realize they can continue predation with reduced or no consequences.
The plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center, Morrison & Foerster, and Harvard Law professor Diane Rosenfeld. Individual student survivor clients have also joined the suit. Read their stories here.
Jess Eagle, Equal Rights Advocates
Hayley Forrestal, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
Emily Randall, Legal Voice
Stacy Malone, Victim Rights Law Center
Olympia Feil, National Women’s Law Center