Washington, DC – Democratic Women’s Caucus (DWC) Co-Chairs Reps. Jackie Speier (CA-14), Lois Frankel (FL-21), and Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14); Vice Chairs Reps. Veronica Escobar (TX-16) and Deb Haaland (NM-01); and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) hosted a virtual roundtable today to discuss Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ final Title IX rule that guts protections for student survivors of sexual violence.

The event featured distinguished guest panelists Chanel Miller, author of Know My Name; Amanda Thomashow, Executive Director of Survivor Strong and the first survivor to bring a Title IX complaint against serial predator Larry Nassar; Sage Carson, Manager at Know Your IX; Shiwali Patel, Director of Justice for Student Survivors at the National Women's Law Center; Suzanne Taylor, Systemwide Title IX Director at the University of California; and Tashmica Torok, Founder and Executive Director of the Firecracker Foundation. The Democratic Women’s Caucus leadership called on Secretary DeVos to immediately rescind this rule overwhelmingly opposed by educators, students, institutions, and survivors alike.

 “Secretary DeVos’ Title IX rule is cruel and calculated to ensure that it is easier for rapists to get away with assault, and harder for survivors to come forward. It is beyond disturbing that the Administration could ignore the heartfelt pleas of teachers, superintendents, college administrators, students, survivors, medical experts, government officials, and civil rights advocates to consider the harms and injustices wrought by these changes and remember the true purpose of Title IX – ensuring equal access to education for students,” said DWC Co-Chair Jackie Speier. “I believe the cruelty is the point. It’s as if the Administration sat down with men’s rights activists and charted a ‘how to get away with rape’ path while systematically undoing the rights and protections of survivors. It is the duty of Congress to stand up to this cruelty and ensure these rights and protections are respected and upheld.”

“Students should be chasing dreams, not running from sexual predators. Secretary DeVos is trying to take us back to the days when sexual violence was swept under the rug on campuses. Time is up for sexual harassment and sexual assault in schools,” said DWC Co-Chair Lois Frankel.

“That the Department of Education is working hard to finalize the Title IX rule in the middle of pandemic and at a time when the country is experiencing a collective outrage over police brutality, highlights the Trump Administration’s complete disregard for campus safety,” said DWC Co-Chair Brenda Lawrence.

“I was so glad that two incredible survivor advocates from our district, Amanda Thomashow and Tashmica Torok, joined our discussion today, and helped explain what Secretary DeVos’s Title IX rules would mean for our community,” said Rep. Slotkin. “From preventing survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse from coming forward with a valid Title IX claim, to putting Title IX protections even further out of reach for children in K-12 schools, these rules fail to live up to what survivors like Amanda and Tashmica are asking of us as leaders: to keep students safe, and make it easier for survivors to come forward, not harder.”

“Secretary Devos has written clear guidelines on how to get away with assault. By discounting assaults that happen off-campus, she has effectively created safe zones for assaults to happen without repercussions. Institutions are places where we nurture the mind, but often look the other way when it comes to the body, as if the two are separate. The message has been made clear; if you are assaulted, it is no one’s problem, but your own,” said Chanel Miller, author of Know My Name.  “I get a lot of young women who come to me with stories of assault, that is to be expected in the position that I’m in. What I did not expect, was how many women in their forties, fifties, and sixties have written to me, saying they were assaulted in college, and I am the first person they have told. When we do not acknowledge the harm inflicted these stories don’t go away, they get carried.”

“Plain and simple: DeVos’ Rule would have seriously jeopardized my physical safety and my mental health. I had significantly more protections under previous guidelines.  In fact, now, I would have never had a Title IX claim to begin with. Even if they didn’t believe me––and believe me, they did not––my school launched an investigation into Larry Nassar because of my report in 2014.  That same complaint would serve as the catalyst for change years later. Under this new rule: that catalyst would have never existed,” said Amanda Thomashow, Executive Director of Survivor Strong. “My Title IX was a call for community safety; by filing my report, a paper trail began that paved the way for accountability at Michigan State University. This new Rule would have excused MSU from any responsibility for the hundreds of young girls assaulted on their campus. DeVos saw the damage a paper trail could do when my Title IX complaint led to a $500 million dollar settlement. Now, she is lighting the paper trail on fire, and along with it the chance for future campus accountability or justice, all in favor of the financial interest of schools.”  

"The Department of Education should be doing everything in its power to combat sexual harassment and assault that more than 1 in 5 women, transgender, and gender non-conforming students will experience. Instead, DeVos’ rule severely reduces the number of student survivors who will have access to rights under Title IX. Instead of working with survivor advocates to stop the high rates of sexual violence in schools, DeVos has used her time as Secretary of Education to force survivors to fight for the most basic protections. In doing so, DeVos turned her back on the survivors who are struggling just to keep their heads above water," said Sage Carson, Manager at Know Your IX.

“In the middle of a global pandemic, the Trump Administration has decided to roll back Title IX obligations that have been in place for decades, undermining protections for survivors and victims of sexual harassment,” said Shiwali Patel, Director of Justice for Student Survivors at the National Women's Law Center. “The changes to the Title IX rule are designed to actively prevent schools from taking steps to address sexual harassment and discourage students from reporting by imposing hostile, burdensome, and unfair grievance procedures, which are motivated by sex-based stereotypes and a toxic belief that reports of sexual violence are somehow less credible and require more scrutiny than other types of reports. This new rule is not only dangerous and unconscionable, it’s illegal.”

“Combatting sexual harassment and fostering a culture of respect and accountability require an unwavering commitment.  That is particularly true now, as schools grapple with new Department of Education regulations at a time of anxiety and suffering across the globe, and when we are challenged to come together on a difficult task the way we normally would, which requires meaningful consultation with stakeholders. But we have made great strides, and we must guard that progress fiercely,” said Suzanne Taylor, Systemwide Title IX Director at the University of California. “A fair process is critical — yet of little value unless people harmed by sexual harassment continue to come forward.  The University of California will not be deterred; this work is far too important.  But make no mistake that our forward momentum is not because of these Title IX regulations—it is in spite of them.”

The roundtable can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=2600507916875063&ref=watch_permalink.

 

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The Democratic Women’s Caucus is comprised of all 90 Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives.