Since President Donald Trump took office, supporters of Title IX — the federal civil rights law that prevents sex and gender discrimination in education — have been gravely concerned about the impact that his administration will have on the landmark law, which activists have used as a tool to address the campus sexual assault crisis. That worry turned to dread after Trump tapped Betsy DeVos, who has donated to groups that are dismissive of sexual assault survivors, to be his Secretary of Education.
This week, several moves from the Trump administration suggest this concern was justified.
On Tuesday night, Tyler Kingkade of BuzzFeed reported that Candice Jackson, the current head of the Office for Civil Rights, has been privately expressing her intent to begin a process that could potentially end a 2011 directive that lays out the Title IX guidelines that schools must follow when a student reports a sexual assault on campus. This directive, which came in the form of a Dear Colleague letter written by Vice President Joe Biden, was celebrated by victims’ advocates as a concrete way to help tackle the epidemic of campus rape.
Jackson reportedly wants to go through a process called notice-and-comment with the 2011 directive. This slow-moving process gives everyone in the public an opportunity to submit comments to the department about the way that schools handle sexual assault cases, but ultimately, it leaves the final say about the future of the directive in the Department of Education’s hands. According to BuzzFeed sources, Jackson has expressed that “everything is on the table” when it comes to the future of the Title IX guidelines.
And on Wednesday morning, Alexandra Brodsky, the co-founder of Know Your IX, a project that works to empower students to end gender violence in schools, reported that the Trump administration had removed the 2014 White House “Rape and Sexual Assault: Renewed Call to Action” report on the official White House website.
The report, which Know Your IX has saved on its own website, was a deep analysis of the “most recent, reliable data about sexual assault in our country.” It examined the statistics, looked a the impact that sexual assault has on victims, addressed the marginalized communities impacted by sexual assault and the problem of sexual assault in the military, and dove into the ways that the federal government was trying to address these problems.
“As noted, women at our nation’s colleges and universities are at particular risk of being sexually assaulted,” the report concluded. “To make our campuses safer, change needs to come from many quarters: schools must adopt better policies and practices to prevent these crimes and to more effectively respond when they happen – both by holding offenders accountable and giving victims the help they need to physically and emotionally recover. And federal agencies must better ensure that schools are living up to their obligations.”
The two pieces of news, combined with Secretary DeVos’ repeated refusal to commit to upholding the Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, spells trouble for sexual assault victims everywhere.