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Survivors’ rights groups sue Betsy DeVos over rescinding campus sexual assault guidance

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More than four months after Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the ending of an Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, three victims’ rights organizations are suing her for discrimination and violating federal law.

According to the New York Times, the three groups, Equal Rights Advocates, SurvJustice, and the Victim Rights Law Center, have sued DeVos, saying that the interim guidance she issued has had a “chilling effect” on campus sexual assault reporting and follow-up.

In early September, DeVos announced the Education Department would rescind Title IX protections on campus assault reporting and investigations issued under the Obama administration in 2011 and 2014, citing its failure of the accused under a “too broad” definition of sexual misconduct. Weeks later, DeVos introduced interim rules that allowed for the cross-examination of an accuser, suggested a “clear and convincing evidence standard” as opposed to requiring a preponderance of evidence, and removed the 60-day timeline for investigating reports.

Since then, the groups suing DeVos, which all work with people who say they’ve been sexually assaulted, say that those they represent or advise are less inclined to pursue sexual assault cases and that colleges exhibit a lack of timeliness and transparency in pursing reports. SurvJustice, for example, cited a trend of unresponsiveness from colleges and a “decrease in the number of sexual violence survivors seeking its services.”

“Students…have questioned whether they should continue with their plans to report sexual violence given the uncertainty regarding their legal protections and an anticipated lowered likelihood of success created by the policy change,” SurvJustice wrote.

The three plaintiffs also commented on the anti-survivor bias exhibited by DeVos and Candice Jackson, the acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights who has previously argued that 90 percent of all campus sexual assault allegations “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 groups are represented by Equal Rights Advocates, Democracy Forward Foundation, the National Center for Youth Law, and the National Women’s Law Center

“The new policy discriminates against women and girls and makes it harder for them to learn in a safe environment,” Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, told the Times.

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso is an IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.