Cantwell, Senate Democrats Urge DeVos to Listen to Students and Survivors of Sexual Assault, Start Over on Title IX Rule

In letter, 36 Senate Democrats call on Secretary DeVos to withdraw her Title IX proposal, listen to survivors, and write a rule that will build on progress made to keep students safe from sexual assault and harassment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and 35 of her Senate Democratic colleagues submitted a comment to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her to rescind her proposed Title IX rule, listen to students and survivors of sexual assault, and draft a rule that truly addresses the epidemic of sexual assault in our K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Since Secretary DeVos announced her new draft rule, students, survivors, advocates, and colleges around the country have fiercely opposed her proposal, which would weaken protections for students and allow schools to shirk their responsibility to keep students safe. 

“We urge you to listen to students, schools, and survivors across this country, abandon this harmful proposal, and start over in order to draft a rule consistent with the requirements in Title IX that truly addresses the scourge of sexual assault in our classrooms, on our campuses, and wherever our students live and learn,” the senators wrote. 

Studies show that sexual harassment and assault in our schools are a national epidemic. Over half of girls and 40 percent of boys in grades 7-12 are sexually harassed in any given school year, and more than one in five girls ages 14-18 are kissed or touched without their consent. In college, more than 20 percent of women and 5 percent of men are sexually assaulted or experience sexual violence. In the wake of high-profile cases like Larry Nassar at Michigan State University, the senators expressed concern with weakening schools’ responsibilities to keep students safe. 

“Clearly, harassment and assault are pervasive problems across the country,” the senators continued. “This Administration’s attempt to weaken schools’ responsibilities to effectively respond to complaints under Title IX violates Congress’ intention to protect equal educational access for all students.” 

In their comment letter, the senators took issue with a number of controversial and dangerous proposals, including: significantly narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, making it harder for students to come forward with complaints; only requiring schools to act when students report to certain staff members, not whom they feel most comfortable with; allowing schools to escape liability when they don’t respond effectively or quickly; only requiring schools to respond to incidents that happen on school grounds, excluding off-campus housing; reducing schools’ responsibility to support survivors; tilting school disciplinary hearings in the favor to the accused rather than a fair process, under the guise of “due process;” and more. 

In addition to Cantwell, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

The full text of the comment letter is available HERE.