Legal Advocacy Groups Sue Betsy DeVos and Trump Administration For Discriminating Against Student Survivors of Sexual Violence

Citing Bias of Administration Officials, SurvJustice, Equal Rights Advocates and Victim Rights Law Center Sue to Reinstate Protections for Student Survivors, Overturn Trump Title IX Policy

Washington, DC — On behalf of plaintiffs SurvJustice, Equal Rights Advocates, and Victim Rights Law Center, three national public interest organizations — Democracy Forward, the National Center for Youth Law, and the National Women’s Law Center — filed suit today against the Trump Administration to stop the Department of Education’s new and extreme Title IX policy, alleging it was issued unlawfully and based on discriminatory beliefs about women and girls as survivors of sexual violence, in violation of the Constitution.

In the midst of a national conversation highlighted by the #MeToo movement about the devastating impact of sexual harassment and assault, this lawsuit seeks to reinstate survivor protections revoked by Secretary Betsy DeVos, such as the requirement that schools conduct prompt investigations following reports of sexual misconduct. The suit also seeks to remove new, discriminatory barriers the Trump Administration has put in place that disadvantage survivors of sexual violence.

The suit alleges the Trump Administration’s extreme Title IX policy is unlawfully based on government officials’ discriminatory stereotypes about the credibility of women and girls who report sexual violence, as indicated by Acting Assistant Secretary Candice Jackson in a July 2017 New York Times interview.

“We will not accept Secretary DeVos making it harder for survivors to have equal access to education,” says Laura L. Dunn, Esq., Executive Director of SurvJustice, a survivor-led national non-profit legal group that represents campus survivors. Dunn is also a 2018 TED Fellow. “We’ve heard directly from student-survivors who are questioning whether it’s even worth reporting sexual violence and abuse because of the new Title IX policy. We should be making it easier, not harder, for survivors to speak out, and we’re committed to fighting this unconstitutional action by the Trump Administration.”

“It is unacceptable that the education of women and girls across the country is compromised by sexual harassment and violence,” says Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates. “Yet, under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education abandoned efforts to protect and preserve the civil rights of sexual assault survivors in schools. ERA is proud to join this effort to hold the Department accountable for its discriminatory actions, which ignore fact and undermine the very laws it is charged with enforcing. Our participation in this suit is ERA’s way of saying to women and girls across the country: we have your backs, even if the Department of Education doesn’t.”

“For over 15 years the Victim Rights Law Center has represented survivors of sexual violence, says Stacy Malone, Executive Director of the Victim Rights Law Center. “Since the release of the September 2017 Department of Education guidance, our student clients tell us they are scared of retaliation by their perpetrator and the deliberate discriminatory practices of the Department of Education. We stand with sexual assault survivors to let the Department of Education know that women and girls deserve equal access to their education rooted in respect and fairness rather than the antiquated myths perpetuated by this Administration.”

“The new policy discriminates against women and girls and makes it harder for them to learn in a safe environment,” says Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “This policy discourages women and girls from coming forward after they’ve experienced sexual assault, creates uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law, and makes schools less safe. The Department of Education’s reckless approach must be stopped.”

“Relying on questionable information and procedural shortcuts, this extreme policy provides special rights for those found responsible for sexual harassment in school,” says Jesse Hahnel, Executive Director of the National Center for Youth Law, a national non-profit law firm that has been working for over four decades to improve the lives of marginalized children. “We need to level the playing field, so that girls in school feel safe to report sexual harassment and violence and receive the protections they deserve under the law.  Otherwise, yet another generation of girls will one day have to say #metoo.”

“Let’s be clear: in illegally issuing the most extreme Title IX policy in history, President Trump has once again shown he has no respect for facts, for the Constitution, or for women,”

says Anne Harkavy, Executive Director of Democracy Forward.

Among other things, the new Trump Administration Title IX policy discriminates against survivors by:

  • Allowing schools to resolve claims of violent sexual assault through mediation — a process that avoids accountability and can be traumatic for many survivors and lead to unjust outcomes.
  • Allowing schools to give those accused of sexual violence the right to appeal an unfavorable investigative outcome, but deny survivors of sexual violence that same right.
  • Allowing schools not to issue interim measures – like moving out of a residence or changing class schedules – to protect victims of sexual misconduct from further harassment or violence during campus proceedings.
  • Eliminating the requirement that schools conduct prompt investigations following reports of sexual violence, allowing cases to drag on without limit.

Photos of today’s press conference are posted here and video is posted here.