The Victim Rights Law Center Sues the Department of Education

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Victim Rights Law Center, along with SurvJustice and Equal Rights Advocates, Sues Betsy DeVos and Trump Administration For Discriminating Against Student Survivors of Sexual Violence

Citing Bias of Administration Officials, Victim Rights Law Center, SurvJustice, and Equal Rights Advocates Sue to Reinstate Protections for Student Survivors, Overturn Trump Title IX Policy

Washington, DC — The Victim Rights Law Center, joined by SurvJustice and Equal Rights Advocates, filed suit today against the Trump Administration to stop the Department of Education’s new and discriminatory Title IX policy. The lawsuit, brought by Democracy Forward, the National Center for Youth Law, and the National Women’s Law Center, alleges that the policy was issued unlawfully and is based on discriminatory beliefs about women and girls as survivors of sexual violence, in violation of the Constitution.

Our lawsuit seeks to reinstate survivor protections revoked by the Department of Education. Among other guidelines, Secretary DeVos eliminated the requirement that schools conduct prompt investigations following reports of sexual misconduct and took away the appeal rights of victims. These Title IX protections are essential to undo decades of discriminatory conduct towards victims of violence.

For over 15 years, the VRLC has represented survivors and under no administration have victims’ rights been more at risk. Our lawsuit is unprecedented and necessary in the aftermath of the unconstitutional barriers put in place by the Trump Administration. “The Victim Rights Law Center proudly represents survivors of sexual violence,” says Stacy Malone, Executive Director of the Victim Rights Law Center. “Since the release of the September 2017 Department of Education guidance, our student clients have been forced back into silence because of fear of retaliation by their perpetrator and the deliberate discriminatory practices of the Department of Education. We stand with all sexual assault survivors to inform the Department of Education that in law and in practice women and girls deserve equal access to their education. The notions of respect and fairness are deeply rooted in Title IX and all other civil rights laws and not in the antiquated and false myths perpetuated by this Administration."

Our lawsuit alleges the Trump Administration’s biased Title IX policy is unlawfully based on government officials’ discriminatory stereotypes about the credibility of women and girls who report sexual violence, as indicated by Acting Assistant Secretary Candice Jackson in a July 2017 New York Times interview, “[campus sexual assault] accusations - 90 percent of them - fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”

“The new policy discriminates against women and girls and makes it harder for them to learn in a safe environment,” says Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “This policy discourages women and girls from coming forward after they’ve experienced sexual assault, creates uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law, and makes schools less safe. The Department of Education’s reckless approach must be stopped.”

“Let’s be clear: in illegally issuing the most extreme Title IX policy in history, President Trump has once again shown he has no respect for facts, for the Constitution, or for women,” says Anne Harkavy, Executive Director of Democracy Forward.

Among other things, the new Trump Administration Title IX policy discriminates against survivors by:

  • Allowing schools to resolve claims of violent sexual assault through mediation -- a process that avoids accountability, can be traumatic for many survivors, and lead to unjust outcomes.
  • Allowing schools to give those accused of sexual violence the right to appeal an unfavorable investigative outcome, but deny survivors of sexual violence that same right.
  • Allowing schools not to issue interim measures - such as moving out of a residence or changing class schedules - to protect victims of sexual misconduct from further harassment or violence during campus proceedings.
  • Eliminating the requirement that schools conduct prompt investigations following reports of sexual violence, allowing cases to drag on for an extended period of time.

Photos and video of today's press conference are posted here.

SurvJustice is a survivor-led national not-for-profit organization that increases the prospect of justice for all survivors of sexual violence through effective legal assistance, policy advocacy, and institutional training.

Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) is a national civil rights organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls.

Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC) is the first nonprofit law center in the country solely focused on the legal needs of sexual assault victims.