Victims advocates, Shapiro decry DeVos' proposed rules on campus sexual assault

Kim Glovas
November 16, 2018 - 1:50 pm
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The U.S. Department of Education is proposing new rules on handling sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. Advocates for sexual assault victims say the change helps the accused, not the victims. 

"I don't think this new guidance is particularly helpful for survivors," victims advocate Laura Luciano said.

Luciano is associate director of the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance at Rutgers University Camden. 

She says the new proposals would define sexual harassment as unwelcome conduct that is so severe, pervasive and offensive that it denies a person access to education.

"Narrowing this definition will exclude victims from coming forward, because they will believe it doesn't fit into that definition, or it will potentially change the way that administrators are responding," Luciano said. "It will also put responsibility on staff to make judgements rather than go from 'this person is claiming that this behavior is unwanted'  and that's what we're going to investigate."

RELATED: DeVos proposes overhaul to campus sexual misconduct rules

The proposed rules face a 60-day public comment period before going into effect. Luciano is urging anyone who advocates for sexual assault victims on college campuses to weigh in. 

"That's the only way that this is not going to go forth, is for everbody to take action and say this is not the right thing to do," she said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says the Obama-era guidelines she scrapped last year were unfair to students accused of sexual misconduct.

She says the new guidelines aim to give greater protections to accused students while also giving schools flexibility to offer support to victims who don't file a formal complaint.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a statement on Friday pushing back against parts of DeVos' proposal:

“Over the past several months, I have joined with campus safety advocates to express serious concerns about Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education’s plans to protect students on campus. While today’s proposal incorporates a few of the positive changes we fought for, the rules released today remain fundamentally flawed and are a step backward.

“Among other things, Title IX guarantees all students an education free of sexual harassment and assault, and today’s proposal undermines that fundamental right. These rules are a failure of leadership on the part of Secretary DeVos and the Trump Administration and a betrayal of sexual assault survivors and the advocates who work so tirelessly on their behalf.

“It’s vital for higher-education institutions to have more tools at their disposal, not fewer, to ensure proper responses to reports of sexual assault.  I will continue to fight on behalf of survivors of sexual assault and abuse as this proposal moves through the process, and will not hesitate to take legal action if it is warranted.”

In 2017, when it was first reported that DeVos and the Department of Education were considering rolling back Title IX protections for students alleging sexual assault, Shapiro organized a letter to the secretary signed by a coalition of 20 state attorneys general expressing serious concerns with the proposal.