At department of education, groups tell DeVos to listen to sexual assault survivors

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“She should also be listening to assault survivors.”

Groups representing sexual assault survivors gather in front of the U.S. Department of Education. CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Casey Quinlian

Groups representing sexual assault survivors, members of Congress, and former Obama administration officials spoke in front of the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday to support Obama administration-era guidance that expands protections for campus sexual assault survivors.

The guidance is considered in danger of being rescinded, especially after the department said it would meet with groups, including men’s rights activists, hostile to sexual assault survivors on Thursday.

The department plans to meet with National Coalition for Men Carolinas, SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, and Families Advocating for Campus Equality shortly after meeting with groups representing survivors of sexual violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center includes SAVE in a list of misogynist websites. The president of the National Coalition for Men, Harry Crouch, has defended men who have abused women, such as former football player Ray Rice, by saying, “But if she hadn’t aggravated him, she wouldn’t have been hit.”

And an official in the Education Department itself recently suggested the vast majority of campus assault cases were not merited. In an interview with The New York Times, Candice Jackson, who leads the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, said, “Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”

The Obama administration’s 2011 guidance on campus sexual assault was instrumental to sexual assault survivors when advocating for their rights on campus, several speakers said at the protest. The guidance clarified protections for sexual assault survivors and required all schools to have procedures in place to handle and quickly investigate complaints.

People who attended the event held signs on why they support Title IX. CREDIT: Casey Quinlan

The Thursday protest outside the Education Department include groups such as Know Your IX, End Rape on Campus, SurvJustice, Girls, Inc., the National Center for Transgender Equality, and National Women’s Law Center. Speakers at the rally included girls who said they were sexually assaulted in high school, were disbelieved, and struggled in school as a result. Other told of being raped at college and having to regularly see the person who sexually assaulted them on campus.

Speaking at the protest, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) criticized Jackson’s comments and said, “The bottom line is that there continues to be heinous injustice across this country. This should be about decency this should about justice, not false ideology.”

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and former acting head of the the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said she found Jackson’s comments “outrageous” and “deplorable.”

“It displayed a callousness on the part of a federal official who has the very grave duty of ensuring all students are free from discrimination and keeping schools free from violence, harassment, and fear. I am deeply troubled by those comments,” Gupta said.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that she was alarmed by the the department’s decision to meet with groups that want to roll back guidance on campus sexual assault.

Mara Kiesling speaking to a crowd gathered at the U.S. Department of Education, alongside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Vanita Gupta, former head of the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice. CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Casey Quinlan

“Speaking to groups who believe sexual assault isn’t real, that believe it is a feminist plot; that is part of the dismantling of civil rights. It’s not even aimed at protecting men. These are extremist hate groups and they have no place conferring with the government,” Kiesling said.

“She should also be listening to assault survivors and trying to protect real people not people just to trying to make an extremist point,” she added.

Aniqa Raihan, a sexual assault survivor who recently graduated from George Washington University, said she spent her last two months at her university trying to change the university’s policy on how it handles sexual assault.

“All of our work there revolved around Title IX and the protections it gave us,” Raihan told ThinkProgress. “And so without Title IX, we wouldn’t be able to have that conversation, much less make the progress that we made. So I thought it was important to be here today with people who are fighting to make the system better so they have some foundation they can build on.”

Raihan started an online petition at the university to expel the man who sexually assaulted her, which received 870 signatures, after he received a penalty of deferred suspension.

Spencer Grady-Prawl and Aniqa Raihan. CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Casey Quinlan

A friend who attended the event with Raihan, Spencer Grady-Pawl, said he knew the statistics on campus rape, but he became interested in campus activism when a woman he knew experienced sexual assault.

“My sophomore year, a friend of mine was sexually assaulted and that was the first time it really hit home for me. I knew how many women faced sexual assault in college but that was first time it it had personal impact on my life and I became more interested,” Grady-Pawl told ThinkProgress.

“I just think is important for people to realize that even if they personally don’t know someone it has happened to, it has happened to women across the country and it’s important for men to be involved, because that’s going to be half the battle to stop it.”

Abigail Ulman, a student at Georgetown University who also interns at the Feminist Majority Foundation, said she has friends who have experienced campus sexual assault and that she wanted to come to support survivors.

“I think supporting survivors is the most important thing you can do. I’m really lucky not to be a survivor but because I know too many people who are and I want to do all I can to help give people these resources and fight for survivors,” Ulman said.

At department of education, groups tell DeVos to listen to sexual assault survivors was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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