SurvJustice, which helps university women report assault, joined with Equal Rights Advocates and the Victim Rights Law Center to file the suit, which argues that the changes are discriminatory, violate federal law and are having a “chilling effect” on assault reports. In addition, schools are either not responding to the fewer complaints or not taking action as quickly, according to the suit.
The suit was filed Thursday in the Northern District of California against DeVos, the Department of Education and Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the department.
The suit argues that DeVos and Jackson hold “discriminatory stereotypes” about women and are convinced that many who report sexual abuse or assault “misunderstood a harmless romantic advance,” are lying or later regretted a “consensual sexual encounter.”
This “discriminatory mindset not only motivated decision makers at the department, it flows from the top of the Executive Branch,” the complaint adds, referring to President Donald Trump.
DeVos issued a new policy in September increasing protections for those accused of sexual assault in kindergarten through college. She said that the Obama administration hadn’t ensured the rights of the accused and moved to adopt what she termed “fundamental fairness.” Shortly before the changes, DeVos called the 2011 Obama-era policies addressing campus sexual assault “shameful” and “wholly un-American.”
She raised the standard of proof for accusers from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” The new guidelines also allowed even cases of sexual assault to be settled by mediation.
Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, said at the time that changes would “in effect weaken sexual violence protections” and “prompt confusion among campuses.”
Deadspin pointed out that DeVos ditched the Obama policies two days after meeting with the head of Michigan State University. Larry Nassar, a doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State’s athletic department, was sentenced this week to up to 175 years in prison after more than 100 women confronted him in court for sexually assaulting them. He was fired by Michigan State in 2016.
Shortly before the Education Department changes were made, Jackson flippantly dismissed “90 percent” of school sex assault reports in an interview with The New York Times.
They “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Jackson told the newspaper. She has also branded the women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment as “fake victims.”
Laura Dunn, founder of SurvJustice and a university sex assault survivor, told People magazine: “I’m not going to let the abuser-in-chief take away our protections.” Trump has been accused of assault or harassment by about 21 women.