Legislation comes as department considers dismantling protections; group of Democratic attorney generals have sent letter to department asking that it keep the protections in place
(TRENTON) – Amid concerns that Obama-era rules to protect victims of campus sexual assault might be dismantled, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union) said Friday she will introduce a resolution asking the U.S. Department of Education to maintain the protections.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is considering changes to how the department enforces the gender equality law Title IX as it pertains to school responses to sexual assault reports.
“Rolling back these protections sends a terrible message to students,” said Quijano. “We have seen case after case where school officials failed to properly address claims of sexual assault, and we have seen the impact of this negligence on victims. This is not the time to reverse course.”
A group of 20 attorney generals, all Democrats, sent a letter to DeVos urging her to keep the guidelines. The letter was sent after DeVos held meetings with several groups, including survivors, survivor advocates, attorneys and educational officials, as well as men’s rights activists.
New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino was not on the letter.
In addition to advocating keeping the protections in place, the resolution also questions why Porrino was not on the letter, and asks that he clarify his stance on the issue.
“I’m troubled by what is happening in Washington, but also here at home. It would have been wonderful to see the state represented in this letter, and our commitment to providing a safe learning environment for students clearly stated,” said Quijano. “I’m curious as to why Attorney General Porrino did not join the other attorney generals in this letter. We need to know where he stands on this issue, and if it’s not on the side of victims, then we need to know why.”
The guidance issued by the Office of Civil Rights under Obama in 2011 told universities they were obligated to combat sexual assault and harassment under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. The guidance established a requirement that college disciplinary proceedings rely on a preponderance of evidence when adjudicating cases of sexual assault – a lower burden of proof than is required in criminal courts. It also advised universities to take steps to protect the complainant from encountering the alleged perpetrator around campus during the hearing process, and allow both the complainant and the alleged perpetrator to appeal the outcome.
“Campus sexual assault is a pervasive problem. According to one study, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 14 men experienced sexual assault while in college. For female bisexual and transgendered students, victimization rates are even higher,” said Quijano. “We have a moral obligation to protect students, and respond appropriately when sexual allegations are made. Doing away with these protections put students in danger and undermines the severity of sexual assault and the trauma it brings.”
The resolution will be introduced at the next Assembly quorum.