BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today, July 19, joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general urging U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to keep important legal protections for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses in place.
The letter, sent today, expresses concern over reports the Department of Education is preparing to roll back protections for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses, and calls on Secretary DeVos to work collaboratively with the attorneys general to take action to end the scourge of sexual violence on our campuses.
“The Department of Education should prioritize the safety of college students, and these rollbacks do exactly the opposite,” Healey said, in a press release. “We’re calling on Secretary DeVos to start using her position to help students, and we hope the Department of Education will work with us to take action to ensure that all students are safe from sexual violence.”
Incidents of sexual assault on college campuses are widespread. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that, on average, 20.5 percent of college women had experienced sexual assault since entering college while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in five women experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes. Moreover, the vast majority of these incidents go unreported. According to a study from the American Association of Universities, reporting rates for some types of assaults were as low as five percent, in part due to survivors’ concerns about coming forward.
The Department of Education’s current guidance was first issued in 2011 and later clarified in 2014.
The guidance instructs colleges on how they must address sexual assault incidents under Title IX. These steps include appointing a Title IX coordinator, requiring mandatory reporting by responsible school officials, and implementing procedures for handling investigations and hearings.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Title IX tracker, as of July 9, 2017 there have been 408 investigations of colleges for their handling of reports of sexual violence 64 of those have been resolved and 344 remain open.
Of particular concern to the attorneys general were the comments from Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson, who claimed that 90 percent of campus sexual assault allegations “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months laterI found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”
The letter reaffirmed the attorneys general’s commitment to working collaboratively with Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education to address the problem of sexual assault, including suggesting the Secretary engage with a bipartisan group of attorneys general and other stakeholders to discuss collaboration.
In addition to Massachusetts, the letter was signed by attorneys general from Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.