WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Department of Education took steps that could discourage students from reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and limit a thorough investigation of those complaints when they do. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announced today promotes a policy that diminishes protections under Title IX, the law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools and universities receiving federal funds. The proposed rule departs from its core purpose of ensuring meaningful access to educational opportunities free from sex discrimination and creates significant hurdles for survivors by narrowing the definition of sexual assault, thereby limiting the protections for students subjected to sexual harassment or assault.
“We are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to Title IX’s protections for student survivors of sexual harassment and assault,” stated Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Consistent with this Administration’s aggressive agenda to roll back essential protections for students, the proposed rule undermines the safety and educational opportunities for all students, but particularly women and girls of color, who have been shown to experience explicit and implicit bias in the investigation of claims of sexual harassment and assault. In taking this step, the Department of Education has abandoned its fundamental obligation to promote safe learning environments and enforce the civil rights of students.”
In addition to requiring that survivors demonstrate that the sexual harassment or violence has limited their ability to access their education, the rule would categorically exclude off-campus activity from Title IX protections even if the survivor must encounter their harasser at school or on campus in order to continue their education. The rule also allows schools to limit their investigation into allegations of sexual harassment or assault, making them complicit in the perpetuation of harassment and violence.
The proposed rule is out of touch with what we know today about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. More than one in five women and nearly one in eighteen men are sexually assaulted in college. Research shows that only 12% of college survivors and just 2% of girls between the ages of 14 to 18 years old report sexual assault to their schools or to their police. Moreover, marginalized students are less likely to report incidents of sexual harassment or violence, including LGBTQ students and those with disabilities. Moreover, the fact that the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection shows that 89% of colleges report no incident of rape and 79% of schools serving students in grades 7-12 reported no incidents of sexual harassment raise questions about the reluctance to disclose.
“We fully support due process for those accused of sexual harassment and assault. But by tilting investigations in favor of those accused of committing sexual violence, the rule is likely to discourage survivors from coming forward and receiving the support that they need,” observes Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The unintended consequence will be to make schools and colleges less safe — not more. As a result, the rule will take us further away from ensuring that our students enjoy the right to attend school free from sex discrimination, and we encourage the public to submit comments raising these concerns.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 55th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.
Derrick Robinson, Lawyers’ Committee, [email protected], 202-662-8317