Congress members want protections for student survivors of sexual violence to be restored
Washington DC – Squad member Ayanna Pressley was among a group of 59 congressional representatives who signed a letter to the Biden administration demanding the restoration of protections for student survivors of sexual violence.
The Massachusetts congresswoman, together with three other representatives, led the charge in penning the letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Acting Assistant Secretary Suzanne Goldberg.
The letter calls on the Department of Education to speed up the process of undoing harm done by the Trump administration and reinstate protections for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
During the Trump presidency, the rules were changed for reporting sexual violence claims under Title IX.
The new law, which took effect in 2020, requires colleges to hold hearings with cross-examinations. Any evidence not subject to cross-examination may be dismissed.
Advocates for survivors said the Trump-era changes created a chilling effect for many who want to avoid potentially traumatizing legal proceedings and that they paved the way for schools to ignore many of their claims.
Biden's Education Department held hearings on Title IX in June but announced they won't release their changes until May 2022.
Members of Congress demand swifter action
For Pressley, herself a survivor of sexual abuse in her childhood and at Boston University, as well as other members of Congress, that time frame is far too broad.
"The final rule issued by the Trump Administration took 21 months to go into effect after the original changes were proposed," their letter reads.
"If the Department uses a similar timeline, it is on track to not issue a final rule until February 2024. Simply put, students cannot wait much longer for the Department to restore their civil rights."
They are demanding, instead, that the Education Department release proposed Title IX changes by October 1 of this year.
With schools going back in session, the need for change could not be more urgent, advocacy group ED Act Now explains on their website: "Students are about to enter a double redzone where more than 50% of all sexual assaults will occur between the day first year students arrive on campus until the day students depart for Thanksgiving Break."
"This fall, with schools shifting from remote learning back to in-person classes, experts predict that sophomores – who have not yet stepped on campus – will experience college as freshmen do, which means that the population of those at risk will double."
In line with the demands of ED Act Now, the congressional letter wants the Education Department to issue a directive that would stop enforcement of the problematic parts of the law until the permanent changes are made. Among other things, this would give students more time to file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights.
As of 2018, rules put in place by the Trump administration only allow students 180 days from the first instance of alleged discrimination to file a complaint.
Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire