Today, HRC responded to a new proposal from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to change Title IX in a way that would suppress the voices of survivors of rape and sexual assault and make it easier for their perpetrators to get away with their actions.
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding. Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination, as a matter of law, requires schools to address sexual harassment, including sexual violence, as forms of sex discrimination. In addition, Title IX protects students from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, as evidenced by continuing case law, guidance previously issued by the Department of Education, and school district settlements to this effect.
Among the dangerous changes to this regulation is a proposal to permit religiously-affiliated schools the ability to decline to submit a request or notice for a Title IX exemption to the Department of Education on their institutional policies, keeping students and their parents in the dark on whether the school intends to discriminate.
“This rule turns back the clock to a time when our schools swept rape, sexual assault, and harassment under the rug,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “This is a blatant disregard for the justice of survivors of sexual violence by letting schools off the hook for Title IX obligations and denying survivors, including LGBTQ survivors, their civil right to equal access to education. The only safe place created for schools with this proposed rule is one for perpetrators. These changes are unacceptable and must be rejected.”
LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by sexual assault and harassment, and the stigma that many LGBTQ people face can make it more difficult for survivors to report. Studies suggest that nearly half of bisexual women have been raped and half of transgender people will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey of high school students, lesbian and bisexual women and gay and bisexual men experienced higher rates of sexual assault than their straight counterparts. In addition, a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities found that 60 percent of gay and lesbian students and nearly 70 percent of bisexual students report being sexually harassed on campus.
In July, representatives from HRC met with other survivors of sexual assault in a meeting with Betsy DeVos to emphasize that it is critical that she and the Department of Education enforce Title IX and maintain the 2011 guidance that details specifically schools’ obligations under Title IX to ensure “prompt and equitable resolution[s]” to complaints of sexual violence.