Survivors of campus sexual assault and harassment have reacted with shock and dismay to the news that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos intends to roll back victim protections put in place by the Obama administration to reverse the longstanding indifference in schools and colleges to the discriminatory effect of sexual assault and violence. With this action, DeVos and her boss show that they are nothing short of rape apologists. Clearly, the secretary is taking her marching orders from a president who bragged about his ability to sexually assault women at will.
While providing new guidance that will make it more difficult for survivors to obtain relief from school administrators and the U.S. Department of Education, the civil justice system remains an alternative avenue for justice and protection for victims since the legal provisions of Title IX cannot be changed by a change in guidance from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”).
While DeVos and the OCR might decide not to enforce the law, nothing about DeVos’ decision interferes with the power of federal civil courts in this country from enforcing Title IX and the federal regulations implementing it. Title IX and 34 Code of Federal Regulations Part 106 still require schools and colleges receiving federal funding to take active measures to prevent a hostile campus environment, maintain a process for prompt and immediate response to a complaint of sexual violence or harassment, provide protections from exposure to further harassment, allow for accommodations to ensure that a victim does not suffer a loss of academic opportunities and to take appropriate disciplinary action when the facts support the complaint. There is nothing that DeVos can do to change these basic legal requirements.
If an academic institution responds to a complaint of sexual violence or harassment with deliberate indifference that results in exposure to further harassment, and a hostile campus environment for the survivor nothing stops that survivor from marching into a federal court to enforce those rights or to recover monetary compensation for the damages suffered by that deliberate indifference.
Following this insensitive announcement by Secretary DeVos, it is understandable that survivors are feeling desperate and helpless. But these victims need to be aware that Title IX legal protections and sanctions are still a viable option through the courts.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.