Dems to DeVos: Don’t weaken school sex assault policy

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn on Tuesday led a group of a dozen Democratic lawmakers in urging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to keep an Obama-era guidance for K-12 schools and colleges on investigating sexual assault on campus.

DeVos said this month she has begun the process to rescind guidelines from the administration of President Barack Obama and end a “failed system” of sexual assault enforcement that she said undermines the due process rights of the accused. DeVos wants “more effective and equitable enforcement” of Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination.

The lawmakers in their letter expressed “deep concern” about DeVos’ plans, urging her not to weaken enforcement of Title IX protections for sexual assault victims and stressing the need to ensure the department’s policy protects survivors across the country.

“Guidance issued by the Department on Title IX enforcement helps ensure that no school administrator will ignore allegations of rape and sexual assault,” the Democrats wrote.

“It pushes them to do better, and not just through words, but with real consequences if their responses are not adequate. This policy must be robustly enforced to protect survivors across the country.”

The lawmakers noted that, even when a school reports the assault, survivors are often ostracized and isolated for speaking out.

“To them, Title IX is everything and weakening or eroding this landmark law would take away hope for survivors when they already have few places to turn,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Going backwards is simply unacceptable and failing to provide a safe, transparent, and fair environment to survivors is not something we will entertain.”

DeVos has said the current approach is unfair to students wrongly accused of assault, in part because of the Obama-era requirement that schools use a lower standard of proof — “preponderance of the evidence” — when examining allegations of sexual misconduct.

“It’s no wonder so many call these proceedings ‘kangaroo courts,’” DeVos said in remarks this month.

Since joining Congress, Dingell has spoken out in support of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Other members who signed her letter include New Hampshire Rep. Annie McLane Kuster, co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence; Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, co-chair of the Bipartisan Women’s Caucus and chair of the Democratic Women’s Working Group; and California Rep. Mike Thompson, chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

The other signatories are Reps. Donald S. Beyer Jr. of Virginia, Salud Carbajal, Mark DeSaulnier and Mike Thompson of California, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana.

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