During a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the next Secretary of Education, I had a simple question — one that I wanted to ask as a U.S. Senator and as a father of four daughters. I wanted to know whether the incoming Trump Administration would commit to enforcing current law on combating campus sexual assault by holding perpetrators accountable and helping victims, in accordance with Title IX and my own Campus SaVE Act, which was passed in 2013. Ms. DeVos replied that it was “premature” to say whether the Administration would enforce the existing law. I will continue to fight to make sure we do not turn back the clock on victims of sexual assault.
Failure to crack down on sexual assault is the ultimate betrayal of young women. For too long, sexual assaults, particularly those committed on college campuses, occurred with little accountability for the assailant. Victims were shamed and ignored and the young men who committed these assaults went back to their lives, as their victims lived in fear of another encounter. Over years, the problem of campus sexual assault became an epidemic. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 5 women would experience a sexual assault in their lifetimes.
In 2010, I introduced legislation, the Campus SaVE Act, which required uniform reporting standards for sexual assaults on college campuses. In 2013, as part of the Violence of Against Women Reauthorization Act, Campus SaVE became law, and it went into effect for the 2015–2016 school year. This law ensures that every student knows what their rights are and that they are given information on whether they are attending a safe campus. This law was one part of the federal government’s work to fight back against campus sexual assault. In 2011, President Obama’s Administration issued guidance clarifying a number of policies working to prevent and respond to campus sexual assault under Title IX, the landmark law that guarantees equal treatment on campus regardless of gender. This policy clarified the Department’s longstanding guidance for institutions of higher education about the appropriate use of the “preponderance of the evidence” standard for campus conduct proceedings, in accordance with years of case law precedent.
The enforcement of Title IX that followed the 2011 guidance made a substantial difference for the victims of campus sexual assault and their perpetrators. While there is more work to do, the 2011 Department of Education guidance and my Campus SaVE Act strengthened accountability.
However, progress could be fleeting if a new Administration is less committed to maintaining and building on the policies focused on campus sexual assault. When Ms. DeVos said it would be “premature” to expect the incoming Trump Administration to enforce existing laws on campus sexual assault, I realized that we must take action to prevent the erosion of the protections that we have won for victims. The first step I can take is voting against Mrs. DeVos. We must renew our commitment to providing protection to the victims of sexual assault. We must enforce Campus SaVE and we must not deviate from the 2011 guidance.
Maintaining protections for the victims of campus sexual assault is not negotiable. It’s never “premature” for an Administration to commit to a fair and just process that protects victims and holds perpetrators accountable. The Trump Administration and Ms. DeVos, if confirmed, will have a short amount of time to decide whether to keep strong campus sexual assault protections in place or go back to the policies of the past. For the victims, the ones who struggled to get out of bed months after an assault and the ones who experience flashbacks as they try to move on, the Trump Administration must not roll back our progress.