Dem senators call on DeVos to rescind new campus sexual assault policies

Dem senators call on DeVos to rescind new campus sexual assault policies
© Greg Nash

A pair of Democratic senators are calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind the campus sexual abuse policies her department released this month, saying the proposed rules would bolster the rights of the accused at the expense of sexual assault survivors. 

Sens. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayVA senior adviser forced out amid concerns that he was 'getting paid to sit on his couch': report The Year Ahead: Drug pricing efforts to test bipartisanship Overnight Health Care: Manchin pitched Trump on reviving bipartisan ObamaCare fix | 4 in 10 don’t plan to get flu shots | Survey finds more than a quarter have pre-existing conditions MORE (Wash.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanNew Hampshire's secretary of state narrowly holds seat New Hampshire Dem icon at risk after work with Trump Dem senators call on DeVos to rescind new campus sexual assault policies MORE (N.H.) on Wednesday held a press conference with survivors' groups and activists, urging those concerned to provide the Education Department with their input during the 60-day public comment period before the new rules are finalized. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"DeVos's proposed rule will return us to a time when sexual assault survivors were ignored and felt they had nowhere to turn," Murray said during the event's opening remarks.

Hassan called the rules a "major step backward in the wrong direction" in combating the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. 

"The Education Department is required to consider all comments from the public before making a final decision on these regulations, so I join Sen. Murray in saying that the best step that Secretary DeVos could take would be to rescind these proposals and let’s start anew," Hassan said. 

Barring that, Hassan added that all those invested in the issue should "speak up."  

The Education Department on Nov. 6 released a plan that bolsters the rights of those accused of sexual assault and reduces liability for schools investigating incidents of alleged sexual misconduct. The new rules narrow the definition of sexual harassment and offer guidelines for supporting the accused.

The plan gives schools the option of requiring a higher evidentiary standard, which would make it more difficult for survivors to prove wrongdoing. It would also require schools to investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment only if the alleged incident took place in areas under the purview of the school and was reported to certain campus officials. 

Sage Carson, the manager of advocacy group Know Your IX, at the press conference said that she "was able to finish school" because of Title IX, the civil rights law that sexual assault claims are adjudicated under.

She said her assault occurred off-campus. 

"In the months following my assault, my grades steadily dropped," Carson said. "I was forced to see him every time I went to class." She said, after a lengthy Title IX process, she was able to bring a "no-contact order" against her alleged assailant.

"I would have never graduated and I would not be here today" without the Obama-era guidelines for Title IX, she said. Those guidelines made it easier for students to bring forward allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault. 

DeVos's plan is the latest step in the Education Department toward rolling back those efforts by former President Obama's administration.  

Chrissy Weathersby Ball, one of the survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar, also spoke at the conference, saying that Nassar would not have been stopped under DeVos's rules because his conduct was reported to "trainers and coaches" rather than the campus officials delineated in the new plan.

"By changing these laws and lowering the standards that they propose, they are saying just that ... this is OK for our children to be sexually assaulted, sexually harassed on our campuses," Ball said.

The new plan is the latest in a series of moves by DeVos that survivors' groups and Democrats have passionately opposed, saying they will diminish any gains made in favor of sexual assault survivors on campuses.

DeVos says that she is seeking to offer those accused of sexual assault their due process rights.

"Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” DeVos said in a statement earlier this month. “We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas.”

Murray at the end of the event repeated that she and Hassan are calling on DeVos to rescind the rule. 

"[Hassan] and I here in the Senate are gonna fight it with everything we have," she said. "We’re counting on the public to stand with us, behind us and in front of us."