A group of Democratic congresspeople 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, codifies into law three Title IX guidances that were created under 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 (issued by Clinton and later re-issued by Bush) ― were used as comprehensive guidelines to help all parties involved in sexual assault cases navigate the reporting process.
“Students should be chasing dreams not running from sexual predators,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) said at the beginning of the press conference.
In the beginning of September, DeVos announced that she will begin rolling back guidances like those named above. DeVos called the current campus reporting process a “failed system” that is “increasingly elaborate and confusing.”
The Title IX Protection Act takes text directly from these three guidances DeVos is attempting to roll back and, if passed, would turn them into law.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) spearheaded the legislation with help from the Democratic Women’s Working Group. Rep. Speier was joined at the press conference at the Capitol Visitors Center by other representatives 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 (AAUW) were also in attendance.
Students should be chasing dreams not running from sexual predators. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fl.)
“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,” Rep. Pelosi said during the press conference.
Rep. Speier told HuffPost that this bill is integral to ensuring that all parties involved in a sexual assault case are treated fairly.
“The most important element of this legislation is that we create a standard that cannot be changed,” Rep. 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, the Managing Director of End Rape On Campus, told HuffPost that this bill ― in spite of the actions of DeVos ― 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, Rep. Speier and other speakers addressed a point often used as an argument against the Title IX reporting process.
In Title IX cases, a preponderance of the evidence needs to be found in order for the accused to be found guilty. In the U.S. there are one of two standards of proof that need to be found in order for a verdict to be made: a “preponderance of evidence” (used in civil courts and civil rights cases) or “beyond a reasonable doubt” (sometimes known as “clear and convincing evidence,” which is used in criminal courts). “Beyond a reasonable doubt” means that there needs to be a very high evidence of proof (around 90-95 percent) of guilt; this is often used in criminal cases only because the punishment is prison time. “Preponderance of evidence” means that there needs to be a lower evidence of proof (just over 50 percent) of guilt; this is often used in cases where the punishment is not as severe. “Preponderance of evidence” is used in Title IX because the punishment is in regard to the accuser’s status at the school (suspension, expulsion, etc.) and does not hold the weight of jail time.
Many people who oppose Title IX reporting processes often point to the “preponderance of evidence” aspect as a glaring error that allows those wrongly accused to be found guilty. As Rep. Speier and others at the presser noted, preponderance of evidence is used in all civil rights cases and sexual violence on college campuses is indeed about civil rights.
“The law is clear, women have the right to an education free from discrimination and sexual violence,” Rep. Speier said in the press conference. “Because [a preponderance of 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. It also is important to point out that it is the standard that is used virtually everywhere on college campuses. And for those colleges who use a clear and convincing standard, they use it for all disciplinary actions.”
Watch the full press conference below.