A group of Democratic lawmakers unveiled legislation at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon that would protect Title IX after recent rollbacks by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
The new legislation, named the Title IX Protection Act, would codify into law three Title IX guidances that were created during the Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton administrations. These guidances ― the 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX document, the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the 2001 Guidance on Title IX (originally issued by the Clinton administration and then re-issued by the Bush administration) ― were designed to help all parties involved in sexual assault cases navigate the campus reporting process.
“Students should be chasing dreams, not running from sexual predators,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) said at the press conference.
In the beginning of September, DeVos announced that she would begin rolling back guidances like those named above. She called the current campus reporting process a “failed system” that is “increasingly elaborate and confusing.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has spearheaded the proposed legislation with help from the Democratic Women’s Working Group. Speier was joined at the press conference at the Capitol Visitors Center by other congressional lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.). Anti-sexual violence and advocacy groups including End Rape On Campus, Know Your IX, the National Women’s Law Center and the American Association of University Women were also in attendance.
Students should be chasing dreams, not running from sexual predators. Rep. Lois Frankel
“The Title IX Protection Act is very important because Secretary DeVos’ decision to roll back vital protections for victims of campus sexual assault is an alarming reminder of the White House’ dismissive and cruel attitude towards survivors and students,” Pelosi said during the press conference.
Speier told HuffPost that this bill is key to ensuring that all parties involved in sexual assault accusations handled under Title IX are treated fairly.
“The most important element of this legislation is that we create a standard that cannot be changed,” Speier said. “We have a secretary of education who is trying to take us back in time and we’re not going back in time. We’re not going back to a period of time when a woman who is raped is not believed or her case is swept under the rug.”
Jess Davidson, managing director of End Rape On Campus, told HuffPost that this bill will send a strong message to survivors that they are not alone.
“A few weeks ago, Secretary DeVos sent survivors of sexual assault a terrible leadership signal, one that clearly told survivors the United States government is not with them, and that survivors are on their own when it comes to the enforcement of their own civil rights. But advocates and survivors know we can’t go back,” Davidson said. “The Title IX Protection Act sends the opposite message to survivors, and to all who want fairness in Title IX processes, as it reiterates the importance of strong Title IX enforcement and of fair, impartial and trauma-informed processes.”
During the presser, Speier and other speakers addressed an argument often used against the Title IX reporting process.
In Title IX cases, the accused must be found guilty by only a “preponderance of the evidence.” That’s the standard of proof usually used in civil rights cases and other civil court matters. It is lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases, where the punishment could be prison time.
Preponderance of the evidence means simply that it is more likely than not that the accused did the alleged deed. The standard is used in Title IX cases where the potential punishments relate to the accused’s status at school ― suspension, expulsion, etc. ― and do not threaten a loss of liberty, like prison.
Critics of the Title IX reporting process often contend that the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard makes it too easy to wrongly convict the innocent. But Speier and others at the press conference argued for the standard by putting sexual violence on college campuses in the larger context of civil rights.
“The law is clear, women have the right to an education free from discrimination and sexual violence,” Speier said. “Because [preponderance of the evidence] is what is used in all civil rights cases, and isn’t this a civil right ― to be able to go to school and not be subjected to violence?”
Watch the full press conference below.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that “clear and convincing evidence” is the same as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It is, in fact, a third standard of proof that falls between “preponderance of the evidence” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.”