Title IX comment period sees unprecedented number of comments from advocates, survivors and others

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled her plan in November to revise Title IX regulations on how campuses handle cases of sexual assault that, she says, would better protect the accused. The clap back has been profound. The stakes are high. When new Title IX rules are finalized, they will be the law.

In the last 60 day period when the U.S. Federal Register formally published the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, advocates, survivors, and others submitted over 100,000 comments – an estimated 20 times what is typically received for a major regulatory proposal.

In an era when sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse will no longer be tolerated, campuses should be championing a culture of safety and respect on campus. This level of commentary shows that there has been significant discussion about what’s working on campuses and what’s not.

One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college and more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. The rates are even higher – 1 in 4 – undergraduate students who are transgender or gender non-conforming. Since 2016, anecdotal evidence shows acts of campus harassment and violence have increased.

DeVos’ proposed changes go against what experts are saying about these cases and over 900 mental health professionals agreed. So much has to go right for survivors of sexual violence. They have to trust systems that time and time again are ill-equipped to support trauma survivors. Many students understand this all too well having experienced violence prior to college in their childhoods and adolescence.

Advocates are concerned these new regulations will make it harder for survivors to want to report and also increase harm for those who do report. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV)—one of the three national sexual violence prevention organizations that lead RALIANCE—joined the thousands of advocates in submitting a comment that highlighted the devastating impact that the proposed rule would have on our schools and student survivors.

DeVos’ revisions would reduce campus liability making them only required to examine cases that take place on campus. They would require students to report sexual misconduct to “an official who has the authority to institute corrective measures” rather than a trusted peer like a residential adviser. And they would define sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” And very concerning is language requiring colleges to hold live hearings where both sides have a chance to cross-examine testimony.

With this level of public commentary, as well as scrutiny by the 116th Congress, it’s time the Department of Education listen to the experts.

RALIANCE Wish List for the New Congress

As lawmakers get to work in the 116th Congress, they should seize this important historic and cultural moment by passing more laws that protect the public, especially women and those in marginalized communities, from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse.

Here are five things the new Congress can do to end sexual violence in one generation:

Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Strong, bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act should include increased investments in prevention; enhanced protections for Native women; strengthened housing provisions; homicide reduction tools; and improved criminal justice approaches.

Increase funding for sexual assault services and prevention

Authorizing $50 million for the SexualAssault Services Program at the Office on Violence Against Women and $75 million for the Rape Prevention & Education Program at the CDC Injury Center will help bring to bear important and much-needed resources for organizations that serve women across the country who have experienced sexual violence.

Strengthen workplace harassment protections and accountability

Despite the longstandingprohibitions against harassment based on sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, and disability, many workers, especially working women and those in low-wage jobs, continue to be denied equal employment opportunities, safety, and dignity. New legislation should focus on strengthening an employee’s ability to hold their employers and harassers accountable.

Pass Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA)

We must improve survivors’ access totrained, forensic examiners. This bipartisan and bicameral legislation would provide guidance and support to states and hospitals providing sexual assault examination services and treatment.

Pass Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act

There is currently no law preventingfederal law enforcement officers from using consent as a defense when accused of committing sexual misconduct on the job. Lawmakers should pass the Closing Law Enforcement Consent Loophole Act and encourage states to pass strong laws that hold these enforcement officers accountable.

RALIANCE Calls to End Shutdown, Restore Critical Services to Sexual Violence Survivors

RALIANCE policy director Terri Poore issued the following statement regarding the prolonged government shutdown, which has now lasted for nearly three weeks:

RALIANCE calls for an immediate end to the government shutdown, which is putting the needs of survivors of sexual assault at risk.

“Rape crisis centers rely on federal funding through the Department of Justice to keep their doors open and pay their advocates, thousands of whom would face the prospect of losing their jobs without this important funding. A prolonged shutdown imperils these programs and others that provide lifesaving services in their communities.

“In the wake of the #MeToo movement, demand for sexual assault services has skyrocketed, as a result of increased national attention on the issue of sexual assault. Even before the shutdown, over half of programs already had a waiting list for counseling services, and every day the government remains closed, increases the danger that survivors won’t be able to access the services they need.

“#MeToo has made abundantly clear that survivors of sexual violence deserve to be taken seriously, not used as a bargaining chip. Congress must act now to end the shutdown and the president must sign a budget. Survivors’ lives depend on it.”

What Bernie should have said about allegations of sexual harassment on his campaign

We’re in a watershed moment for sexual violence prevention, but there’s so much left to do. Every day, in politics, sports, corporate America, Hollywood, and around the world, we’re reminded of how our culture falls short of treating sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse with the seriousness they deserve.

In 2019 and beyond, RALIANCE will be highlighting all the ways in which we still fall short of supporting survivors — and how all of us can do better to help end sexual violence in one generation.

The New York Times recently detailed sexual harassment, demeaning treatment, and pay disparity allegations from staff members on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. In an interview earlier this week on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked Sen. Sanders how he would ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Sen. Sanders acknowledged human resources missteps and offered an apology to those who felt mistreated. He then went on to tout his 2018 Senate re-election campaign in Vermont, where mandatory training and an independent firm handled reports, as a “gold standard for what we should be doing.” Sanders closed by reaffirming that he didn’t know the extent of the issue during the 2016 election due to being too busy campaigning.

In the #MeToo era, plausible deniability is simply not enough. Sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse are widespread societal problems that require fearless leadership and action. We expect more of our political leaders, especially those seeking the highest office in the land.

Here are four things we wish Bernie had said.

“This inappropriate behavior does not reflect my values, or the values of my platform and campaign. As the leader of that campaign, the buck stops with me, and I am ultimately responsible for establishing a work environment that promotes the safety and well-being of all employees.”

“Sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse have no place in our workplaces, and it’s on all of us to look out for each other. That starts with training and awareness, but it doesn’t stop there. To end sexual violence, we all must work to build a culture based on mutual respect, safety and equality.”

“We have put in place transparent policies, procedures, and reporting mechanisms that include training and awareness – not just for how victims may report but on addressing the inappropriate behaviors that enabled this to happen in the first place.”

“The Violence Against Women Act is a vital piece of legislation to support survivors access to services as well as prevention resources. Reauthorizing this important legislation right away must be a top priority for the new Congress.”

How airlines can help prevent in-flight sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse

Sexual misconduct on crowded airlines is happening more often (Los Angeles Times — Hugo Martin), and airlines – like all corporations – can do quite a bit towards preventing it.

Sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse impact all of us. With these acts  often occurring in public places, it’s not surprising that reports of misconduct on commercial flights are on the rise.

Here are some key ways that airlines can do more to prevent sexual violence during flights:

Adopt a standard set of protocols for addressing incidents of sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse;

Offer better sexual violence prevention training for staff;

Collect better data on reports of sexual assault incidents; and

Consistently remind passengers that these behaviors are not acceptable, and that airlines are prioritizing the safety of passengers and crews.

“That proximity of an airplane makes it extra uncomfortable. […] They could start doing some consistent messaging and campaigning to let them know it’s a priority.”

From college campuses to the military, we know that raising awareness about sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse is an important step to preventing these types of bad behaviors from happening and ensuring victims can safely report any experiences of sexual violence. Passengers deserve to feel safe and respected while traveling, and airlines must ensure that message is always communicated.

Championing a Culture of Safety and Respect on Campus is Needed Now More than Ever

On November 16, the U.S. Department of Education announced draft regulations on Title IX that will make it harder for campus sexual assault victims to seek justice. In a new Medium post, Terri Poore, Policy Director for RALIANCE, argues that in the face of neglect from the Department, colleges and universities still have a responsibility to their students to uphold strong protections against sexual violence.

She wrote, “Even as the Department of Education turns its back on Title IX, the law remains unequivocal: educational institutions have a responsibility to prevent the things that create hostile environments, including sexual violence. This is why it’s important that our schools continue to treat campus sexual assault with the seriousness it deserves.”

Read the full post on Medium here.

Non-Disclosure Agreements After #MeToo

A discussion on the ways that non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) can support the needs and choices of survivors.

By Terri Poore, Policy Director at National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

During last month’s National Sexual Assault Conference, I joined Maya Raghu of the National Women’s Law Center in presenting a RALIANCE workshop about state and federal legislative responses to the #MeToo movement. One important issue that we discussed was non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Terri Poore and Maya Raghu

Outlawing non-disclosure agreements was one of the first policy ideas to pop up in the wake of allegations against Harvey Weinstein. In some ways, it seems like an obvious solution—NDAs can keep employers from detecting serial offenders and can keep survivors silent about their experiences. No one wants that!

At the same time, a cornerstone of our work as survivor advocates is helping survivors seek healing and justice on their own terms. After all, healing and justice look different for each person. For example, some survivors may want an NDA to shield themselves from career impacts or receive financial support for therapy and recovery.

As is often true when we’re trying to address and prevent sexual assault, the solution would have to be more complex than simply making NDAs illegal. At our workshop, we talked about some general guidelines for state and federal policy makers seeking to regulate the use of NDAs. Here are some ways that NDAs can support the needs and choices of survivors:

1.  Restore power to survivors by prohibiting employers from requiring employees to sign:

–  NDAs as a condition of employment, compensation, benefits or change in employment status or contractual relationship;

– NDAs as a prerequisite to reporting and/or investigating workplace harassment or discrimination; and

– NDAs that are a mandatory condition of settlement.

2. Require documentation and/or a finding when a survivor signs an NDA that they are doing so voluntarily with meaningful access to legal advice, not under pressure or coercion.

3. Require employers to ensure confidentiality throughout the reporting and investigation process rather than compel employees to sign an NDA as a prerequisite to reporting and/or investigating.

4. Require that NDAs signed during separation or settlement agreements shall not restrict the individual who made the claim from:

–  Lodging a complaint of sexual harassment committed by any person with any local, state or federal agency;

–  Testifying or participating in any manner with an investigation related to a claim of sexual harassment conducted by any local, state or federal agency;

–  Complying with a valid request for discovery or testimony related to litigation alleging sexual harassment;

–  Exercising any right the individual may have pursuant to state or federal labor relations laws to engage in activities for the purposes of collective bargaining or mutual aid and protection;

–  Waiving any rights or claims that may arise after the date the settlement agreement is executed.

5. Address the enforceable scope of NDAs with unambiguous language regarding the consequences for employers who attempt to enact provisions of NDAs that are inconsistent with federal or state law and/or regulations.

6. Address a broader context for protection from unfair NDAs by using “workplace harassment and discrimination, which includes sexual harassment,” instead of “sexual harassment.”

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