On Thursday, Rep. Jackie Speier and the leadership of the Democratic Women’s Working Group introduced the Title IX Protection Act. The bill is in response to the Trump administration rolling back a series of Obama-era guidances addressing how schools manage sexual violence cases, a move that was a setback for sexual assault survivors on college campuses.
The legislation introduced by Speier would codify three Title IX guidances created in the last 20 years: The 2011 Obama guidance known as the "Dear Colleague" letter, the 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX document, and the 2001 Guidance on Title IX — which was originally issued by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and then re-issued by President George W. Bush in 2001.
"[The bill] is codifying what has been an existing law under Republican and Democratic administrations, and it has been changed under the Trump administration," Speier told Refinery29 shortly after announcing the legislation. "We have a president who thinks that it's okay to sexually assault a woman because he's famous, so..."
In late September, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos scrapped a guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2011, which described how schools should investigate campus sexual assault cases.
The reversal by the Trump administration was met with outrage from civil rights groups, who argue the decision will discourage survivors from reporting their assaults. (Already, about 80% of female survivors do not report their assaults according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, better known as RAINN.)
Under the Obama-era guidance, colleges were instructed to use "preponderance of the evidence" as the standard to evaluate and investigate a sexual assault claim. What that means is that schools would need a lower threshold of evidence to prove guilt, which the Obama administration found adequate since the punishment would involve the status of the accuser at the school and not something like jail time.
But those who oppose Title IX say that students who were wrongly accused could be found guilty because the threshold for evidence was low under the "preponderance of the evidence" standard. When DeVos rolled back the Obama-era guidelines, she issued a set of new interim guidance letting schools choose between "preponderance of the evidence" and "clear and convincing evidence," which is a higher standard.
"[Under DeVos' guidelines] you create a situation where for all other disciplinary actions you have one standard, but a much more egregious standard for claims of sexual assault," Speier said. "To make [the standard] more difficult it's going to create a deterrent for victims to report. The 'preponderance of the evidence' standard is used for all civil rights cases and it's a civil right to be able to go to college in a safe and nondiscriminatory environment."
When asked whether House Republicans are standing behind the bill, Speier said a number of GOP members are looking at the legislation right now. Democrats would need that support if they want the Title IX Protection Act to pass in Congress and make its way to President Trump's desk.
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