By Marissa Moore, National Women’s Law Center
Betsy Devos’ hurtful and misguided proposal on sexual assault guidance for schools continues to be embroiled in condemnations.
Today Judith Herman, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and renowned author of Trauma and Recovery, submitted a joint comment with over 900 mental health professionals to strongly express their opposition to the Department of Education’s (ED) proposed rules changing how schools must respond to sexual harassment, including sexual assault, under Title IX. In their comment to ED they cited the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment and that the proposed changes “would exacerbate psychological harms to victims”.
Some of the changes proposed by Secretary Betsy Devos would require colleges to subject survivors to cross-examination in a live hearing, unfairly presume that harassment did not occur (and therefore, that the complainant is being untruthful) in the beginning of an investigation, and inappropriately allow mediation for sexual assault. These amendments would add additional barriers for survivors to report sexual assault and foster an undue advantage to perpetrators.
“The new proposed rules will cause increased harm to students who report sexual harassment, including sexual assault, to their schools, and will discourage students who have been victimized from coming forward. The net effect of the new proposed rules will be to reinforce the shaming and silencing of victims” the professionals wrote in their comment.
From the onset, Devos stated her goal was “ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment”, but the strong opposition from esteemed trauma specialists casts significant doubt on her purported intent.
Similarly, just last week 145 State legislators submitted a letter in opposition of ED’s proposed rules, citing that in addition to harming students the changes would undermine efforts made by states to combat sexual harassment in schools. The School Superintendents Association and the National Associations of Secondary School Principals also called for the changes to be withdrawn.
With new groups vehemently disagreeing with Devos every week, it is clear these proposed rules are downright harmful. Students deserve better.