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December 10, 2019

Reps. Pressley, Slotkin, Speier, and Kuster Introduce Bill to Prevent Secretary DeVos From Rolling Back Title IX Survivor Protections

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Jackie Speier (CA-14), and Annie Kuster (NH-02) introduced a bill that would prevent Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from implementing, enforcing, or otherwise giving effect to her proposed rule changes to Title IX. 

“It is our responsibility to collectively affirm the dignity and the humanity of survivors of sexual violence, and Title IX has been a critical tool for doing just that on campuses across our country,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “The Massachusetts 7th Congressional District is home to the largest concentration of young people and as such, I am committed to lifting the voices of survivors of campus sexual assault and to providing students with the resources and support they need to feel safe coming forward on campus. As the Trump-DeVos administration continues its cruel policy of rolling back crucial protections for the most vulnerable, I’m proud to support this bill to ensure justice for survivors.”

Proposed in November of 2018, the rule changes would raise legal standards for what constitutes sexual harassment, introduce procedural obstacles to reporting and adjudicating claims of sexual harassment, and limit a school’s responsibility to address sexual harassment based on where the harassment occurred and to whom it was reported. These rules could have a chilling effect on students’ willingness to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct and would be a detriment to survivors and to students in general and the academic institutions they attend. DeVos has received strong criticism, as well as over 100,000 formal comments, regarding her proposed rule changes to Title IX, which would make it more difficult for survivors to report instances of sexual assault or harassment by narrowing what constitutes a valid Title IX complaint. 

“As the representative of the Michigan State University community that has been so deeply affected by sexual assault on campus, I cannot understand why Secretary DeVos continues to move forward with proposed changes to Title IX that make it harder for victims to come forward with a successful claim,” Rep. Slotkin said. “I have done everything I can think of to appeal to Secretary DeVos to change course: I’ve submitted a formal comment on the rules and sent letters opposing her proposed changes, I‘ve sent Freedom of Information requests, and met with her personally, all with the goal of reversing course. I have also met regularly with survivors, advocates, and university leadership in our district who remain deeply concerned about the chilling effect these rule changes would have on school safety. They also stand ready to meet with the Secretary to help her understand why her changes would hurt our communities.  Given that Secretary DeVos insists on moving forward, I felt compelled to introduce this legislation that prevents those rules from taking effect.”

“Title IX requires equal opportunity to education, and Secretary DeVos’s misguided rule change only hinders that important objective,” said Rep. Kuster, a founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence. “This legislation will prevent the Trump Administration from carrying out its regressive, harmful new rule. Improving the safety of campuses and the wellbeing of students must be our top priority. I’m pleased to join my colleagues to introduce this commonsense measure and I will continue my efforts to help prevent sexual violence, support survivors, and ensure students are safe.” 

“As outrageous as it may seem, the Department of Education’s new Title IX rule provides more protections to assailants, fewer benefits to sexual assault survivors, and less liability for schools and universities,” said Rep. Speier. “It’s as if fraternities around the country drafted this rule. The bar for proving sexual violence will be so high that survivors will be discouraged from coming forward and schools will once again be able to sweep allegations under the rug. We can’t allow the Nassars and Sanduskys of the world to be aided and abetted.”

“This bill is necessary in order to make sure that survivors’ rights are protected on campuses and in schools across the nation,” Grace French, Founder and President of The Army of Survivors. “Proposed changes to Title IX set forth by Betsy DeVos would be catastrophic to the safety of students, and inevitably lead to lower reporting rates, as well as increased trauma for survivors who did come forward. I applaud Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin for working to protect survivors, and students across the nation.”

“As an attorney representing parties going through the Title IX process in both higher education and K-12 institutions, I have serious concerns about how the Secretary of Education’s proposed regulations will impact students, staff, and faculty who are involved in Title IX complaint investigations in our educational institutions,” Elizabeth Abdnour, Founder & Principal, Elizabeth K. Abdnour, Esq., PLLC. “Based on the draft of the proposed regulations that was circulated in November 2018, it appears that the Secretary of Education seeks to limit schools’ ability to address and prevent sex discrimination by limiting both the scope and jurisdiction schools have over incidents of sex discrimination, including sexual assault and sexual harassment. The proposed regulations state that an instance of sex discrimination must be found to be “severe and pervasive” before a school could intervene to address it.  This would mean that, for example, an instance of sex discrimination that was determined by a school to be severe but not pervasive – such as a one-time sexual assault – could be determined to not be a violation of Title IX. In addition, the proposed regulations would require a finding of deliberate indifference – a high burden to prove – before the Department of Education could become involved in addressing problems with a particular school’s investigation or processes. This would significantly limit the Department of Education’s ability to oversee schools’ response to Title IX complaints. Finally, these regulations would create a statutory standard under which claims of sex discrimination were handled differently than claims of other types of protected-class discrimination, which would not have similar limitations. This is inappropriate and has the potential to further increase the problem of sex discrimination on campus. I support the proposed legislation and appreciate Representative Slotkin’s efforts to prevent the Secretary of Education from limiting the scope of Title IX protections.”

Secretary DeVos’s proposed Title IX rule changes would specifically impact survivors of the Larry Nassar tragedy by either shielding MSU from liability to take action on, or requiring MSU to ignore, accusations against Nassar. Under Secretary DeVos’s proposed rules:

  • In many instances, schools would not be responsible for addressing sexual harassment, even when school employees knew about the harassment. Under this proposed rule, Michigan State University would have had no responsibility to take action to stop Larry Nassar because survivors often reported sexual abuse to athletic personnel, staff, and others they trusted rather than individuals that meet a specific category of employee with “authority to institute corrective measures” or a Title IX coordinator.
  • Schools would be required to ignore harassment that occurs outside of a school activity, including most off-campus and online harassment. Larry Nassar abused women on and off campus. But under these proposed rules, survivors like Amanda Thomashow (the first woman to file a Title IX complaint against MSU for Nassar’s abuse, leading to his investigation and eventual firing), would have been required to be ignored by the university because her assault took place just across the street from campus.
  • Does not require universities to automatically take action if an employee is harassing students within the context of their employment at the institution. Under this rule, schools would not bear responsibility to take action to stop Larry Nassar, as he was abusing women and girls within the context of his job as a sports doctor.
  • Schools would be required to ignore harassment until it becomes quite severe and harmful and denies a student educational opportunities. In other words, schools would be required to ignore the student’s Title IX complaints if the harassment hasn’t yet advanced to a point that it is actively harming a student’s education, meaning many students would need to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse without being able to ask their schools for help.

    More details on Secretary DeVos’s proposed Title IX rules can be found here.


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