Thursday evening, advocates to end sexual assault are gathering at the US Department of Education to protest Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' suggestion that Title IX, a federal policy that encompasses issues of campus sexual assault, should be reformed. Conversations of sexual assault and consent have blasted social media over the past week since allegations against Harvey Weinstein re-emerged, and Alyssa Milano started the campaign #MeToo.
Under Title IX, sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of gender discrimination that are prohibited by Title IX, regardless of whether the incident happens on or off campus, or involves people who are not students.
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Under the Obama administration, in April 2011, a letter was released announcing that the Office of Civil Rights recommended changing the standard for administrative enforcement of Title IX and in court cases from a "clear and convincing" to the standard for a "preponderance of evidence" (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred).
In a recent speech, Secretary DeVos sympathized with sexual assault survivors. But discussed a summit she said she hosted to better understand the perspectives of survivors, falsely-accused students, and educational institutions. "I wanted to learn from as many as I could because a conversation that excludes some becomes a conversation for none. We are having this conversation with and for all students," said DeVos.
I am grateful to those who endeavored to end sexual misconduct on campuses. But good intentions are not enough. Justice demands humility, wisdom and prudence.
Civil rights activists were quick to speak out against DeVos review of the Obama adminstration's policy. Former Vice President Joe Biden made understanding and prevention of sexual assault part of his legacy by founding the It's On Us campaign.
Thursday, six organizations: It's On Us, End Rape on Campus, SurvJustice, Women's March, Feminist Majority Foundation, and PAVE (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment) are joining outside of the Department of Education to protest changes DeVos' would make to Title IX.
The event Facebook page reads, "Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are rolling back the clock on campus rape. Now, they're attacking Title IX safeguards for students -- protecting perpetrators and making justice even harder to achieve for survivors. Their latest move is one of many assaults on survivors, and comes almost one year after tapes were released of now-President Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault. We have fought to bring the epidemic of campus sexual assault out of the shadows. But most survivors are still suffering in silence. We should double down on our efforts -- not turn back."
"We applaud all of the survivors who have used their voice to shatter the silence about sexual harassment and abuse," said Angela Rose, founder of PAVE and a featured speaker at the DC vigil. "Everyone deserves to feel safe and we support the men and women who are starting this important conversation about abuse of power in institutions. We must continue to support survivors, we have made great strides in the past few years and we cannot go back. Every one has the right to a safe environment to work and learn.”
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