Washington, DC - Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo counties) on Tuesday requested the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) expand their support of survivors of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses who struggle to complete their education in the aftermath of such incidents. In a letter addressed to Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary for OCR, Rep. Speier asked that OCR ensure that student loan debt incurred as a result of sexual assault or harassment does not prevent students meeting their educational goals.
“OCR has done great work to ensure colleges and universities are in compliance with Title IX, but it’s clear that far more needs to be done on this issue,” Rep. Speier said. “Title IX requires universities to take proactive action to help survivors of sexual assault and harassment to continue their education. Yet survivors report with alarming frequency that this has not occurred, especially in regard to assistance with the financial turmoil that regularly results from sexual assault and harassment. Over and over, I have heard from survivors who were forced to withdraw from courses or, in the worst cases, drop out of school completely due to an appalling lack of academic support or accommodation. Many students who qualify for refunds in these cases struggle to receive reimbursement. Some have been forced to take out additional loans for mental health services and tutoring, which are supposed to be provided by schools free of charge. Title IX must be enforced fairly and fully to ensure every student receives the support and resources they need and deserve for their academic success.”
In the letter, Rep. Speier includes four action items that would help address the issue:
1) Allow survivors to temporarily postpone student loans payments under the ‘poor health and other acceptable reasons’ justifications;
2) Clarify that schools must offer student loan counseling to survivors as an interim remedy;
3) Consistently support access to reimbursement through Voluntary Resolution Agreements for complainants;
4) Improve survivors’ access to information about student loan assistance by updating the OCR Case Processing Manual.
The letter was prompted by conversations with the survivor advocacy organization Know Your IX.
"Experiencing institutional mistreatment can push survivors out of school, to the tune of thousands of dollars in lost tuition,” said Alyssa Peterson, policy and advocacy coordinator for Know Your IX. “And other survivors are forced to take out loans to pay for services their schools should have provided. This is unacceptable. The reforms mentioned in Congresswoman Speier’s letter are critical to ensuring that no survivor is saddled with more loan debt because they were assaulted. The price of experiencing violence is already high enough."
Included in the letter are testimonials from survivors, printed with their permission, to underscore the critical need for the proposed action.