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DeVos Title IX Guidance for Campus Sexual Assault Rolls Back Crucial Protections for Survivors

The Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (IowaCASA) calls on colleges and universities throughout the state to respond to sexual violence on campuses in a way that is responsible, empowers survivors, and provides survivors with safety and protection. The coalition encourages all schools to continue utilizing the “Dear Colleague Letter” issued by the Office for Civil Rights in 2011 as a reference in responding to sexual violence. This guidance from the previous administration put the national spotlight on campus sexual assault and held schools accountable for non-compliance of Title IX standards. In its call to arms, the letter warned schools that they could lose federal funding if they continued to mishandle sexual assault cases on campus.

On September 22, 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced interim guidance that rolls back crucial protections for survivors, giving schools the option to change the standard for proof from a preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence for sexual assault cases. This change effectively makes it more difficult for survivors to take action against those who do harm.

By contrast, the “Dear Colleague Letter” provided schools a strong directive that resulted in more training on sexual assault, more preparation and education for incoming students to prevent sexual violence, and helped to usher in a 400 percent increase in complaints to the Department of Education.

“Our educational institutions have a responsibility to protect students and to prevent sexual violence from taking place on campuses,” says Beth Barnhill, the Executive Director for IowaCASA. “Because of this, we highly encourage Iowa schools to employ the ‘Dear Colleague Letter’ when addressing cases of sexual violence. Secretary DeVos' current approach is misguided at best and a detriment to survivors. Her recommendations could potentially limit access for survivors to take action, and could ultimately make schools less safe. We know Iowa is better than this. We implore Iowa schools to do the right thing and stand up for survivors.”

Studies estimate that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will experience some form of sexual assault while in college, though the epidemic of sexual violence extends far beyond universities. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 30 percent of female-identified survivors were first raped between the ages of 11 and 17.

IowaCASA's legal department currently provides free civil legal representation to survivors of sexual assault in middle schools, high schools, and post-secondary schools. As part of our funding, we help survivors gain access to available resources and options to allow for greater safety from sexual violence, as well as education about survivors' rights under both state and federal law.​

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