U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos has proposed an extensive overhaul to the way colleges and universities handle sexual assaults. The changes to Title IX would suppress the voices of survivors of rape and sexual assault and make it easier for their perpetrators to get away with their actions.

 

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding. Further, the federal civil rights law requires schools to address sexual harassment, including sexual violence, as forms of sex discrimination. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization,Title IX protects students from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, as evidenced by continuing case law, guidance previously issued by the Department of Education, and school district settlements to this effect.

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Among the Title IX changes critics find alarming -- a proposal to permit religiously-affiliated schools the ability to decline to submit a request or notice for a Title IX exemption to the Department of Education on their institutional policies -- thus keeping students and their parents in the dark on whether the school intends to discriminate.


“This rule turns back the clock to a time when our schools swept rape, sexual assault, and harassment under the rug,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “This is a blatant disregard for the justice of survivors of sexual violence by letting schools off the hook for Title IX obligations and denying survivors, including LGBTQ survivors, their civil right to equal access to education. The only safe place created for schools with this proposed rule is one for perpetrators. These changes are unacceptable and must be rejected.”


LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by sexual assault and harassment, and the stigma that many LGBTQ people face can make it more difficult for survivors to report. Studies suggest that nearly half of bisexual women have been raped and half of transgender people will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey of high school students, lesbian and bisexual women and gay and bisexual men experienced higher rates of sexual assault than their straight counterparts. In addition, a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities found that 60 percent of gay and lesbian students and nearly 70 percent of bisexual students report being sexually harassed on campus.


“This draft rule is a cruel attempt to silence sexual assault survivors and limit their educational opportunity and could lead schools to do even less to prevent and respond to sexual violence and harassment," said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "The Secretary of Education’s continued failure to protect students’ civil rights and ensure they are able learn in safe environments is unacceptable and must be stopped. We call on all who support equal opportunity to participate in this comment process and make clear that fundamental American values of fairness and equality will not be abandoned and that schools must provide all students an educational environment free from sex discrimination and violence.”


HRC’s Jordan Dashow wrote an op-ed for The Advocate on how changes to Title IX would affect LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence and is the subject of a recent video released by HRC.

 

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