Advocate Sues Betsy DeVos for Rolling Back Protections for Students Reporting Sexual Assault
Laura Dunn tells PEOPLE she "did not suffer what I suffered or speak out the way I did to see this get rolled away by [President Trump,] someone who himself has engaged in harassment and assault of women"
Laura Dunn, a victim of sexual assault while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is taking a strong stand to protect students who come forward to report their own experiences of sexual misconduct on campus.
Dunn went on to earn a law degree and create SurvJustice, a nonprofit that has helped scores of college women report sexual assaults. She also worked with Vice President Joe Biden to craft laws and guidance for universities that protected victims and improved campus sexual assault investigations.
So in September, when the Trump administration withdrew these protections that Dunn fought so hard to create, the D.C. attorney knew she had to fight back.
On Thursday, Dunn’s SurvJustice and two other women’s rights organizations filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education and Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights.
The suit, according to the plaintiffs, is an attempt to strike down the Trump administration’s unconstitutional Title IX policy harming student survivors of sexual violence and harassment.
“I’m not going to let the abuser-in-chief take away our protections,” Dunn tells PEOPLE. “I can’t let this go. I did not suffer what I suffered or speak out the way I did to see this get rolled away by someone who himself has engaged in harassment and assault of women.”
An Education Department spokesperson says of the suit: “As a policy, we don’t comment on pending litigation.”
The rollback has had a “huge silencing effect” on victims, says Dunn.
“We saw less willingness to seek assistance, less willingness to make reports, people openly questioning, is it even worth reporting after sexual violence or abuse,” she says.
“As a personal survivor it was devastating,” Dunn continues. “I personally lost something very important to me that took so much to get.”
DeVos said in September that the Obama administration did not properly balance the rights of accusers and the accused. DeVos and others said that previous guidance denied proper due process to the accused.
DeVos criticized it for going too far, reports CNN.
The result is that the “standard for proof has been raised for school disciplinary proceedings in some instances, as different schools have different policies,” according to CNN.
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The department also withdrew a 2014 question-and-answer document which outlined a school’s obligations to victims of sexual violence under the Title IX anti-discrimination law.
Dunn says the Education Department’s action also got rid of a rule to resolve cases within 60 days — a change that she says eases pressure on educational institutions while dragging out the stress of the process on victims.
SurvJustice filed suit along with the groups Equal Rights Advocates and Victim Rights Law Center.
“Anytime you fight for civil rights and they are rolled back in your lifetime it’s devastating,” Dunn says. “We are going to get out there and figure out what to do to fix this situation, how can we keep these rights?”
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