Since the beginning of the Trump presidency, the Department of Education has taken steps that make it more difficult for survivors of sexual assault and harassment to have their cases rectified. On Wednesday, A New York Times report exposed what might be the latest of these steps: Betsy Devos' new proposed campus sexual assault rules. Among other things, these potential rules would enact a narrower definition of sexual harassment, higher standards of evidence, and decreased accountability for schools, while strengthening the rights of students accused of sexual assault.
"We are in the midst of a deliberative process," Department of Education Press Secretary Liz Hill tells Bustle in a statement about the supposedly proposed rules. "Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative and therefore we have no comment."
Already last year, DeVos moved to scrap Obama administration rules that protected survivors from having to engage in mediation with their accused attackers, and recommended creating appeals processes for sexual assault cases. According to CNN, the move was applauded by men's rights groups who said that the old rules favored female accusers over those accused (generally men).
The administration is able to roll back Obama-era protections for sexual assault and harassment victims without congressional approval — meaning, calling your senator won't necessarily work this time. However, there are still actions you can take to support survivors and ensure their protections in the future.
Get Involved With A Campus Advocacy Organization
Petition Your School Administration
The administration is reportedly planning to leave it up to schools to decide some aspects of how they deal with sexual assault and harassment cases. Here’s where you come in — petition your school administration to maintain Obama-era regulations by requiring a “preponderance of evidence”, a lower standard than “clear and convincing evidence” when deciding how to judge accused students. This helps to prevent victim-blaming, and allows survivors to get their stories heard without having to litigate every little detail. You can also advocate for your school to keep an appeals process for survivors who want their cases heard again (a recourse which the administration is proposing to make optional).
Become A Donor Or Volunteer With An Anti-Sexual Assault Organization
Even if you’re not a student, there are lots of ways to help. Donate to or volunteer your skills with national organizations dedicated to advocating against sexual assault and harassment. Even if you’re not working directly against the Department of Education’s proposed rules, you can make an impact by supporting survivors and educating your community. Here's a list of 11 advocacy organizations that Bustle put together in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness month.
Become An Everyday Activist
EROC put together a helpful guide on how you can support survivors of sexual assault in your day-to-day life. In addition to believing survivors (an essential part of making sure their stories are heard) and not participating in victim-blaming, they recommend being intentional with your language. Watch out for ways in which you or people around you trivialize sexual violence or perpetuate stereotypes, and work to prevent them. Make sure you and your friends know your Title IX rights and how to report incidences of sexual assault or harassment on- and off-campus. And lastly, always ensure that you are practicing affirmative consent — that means communicative, enthusiastic, and continuous agreement around all sexual activity.
The administration's rules have not yet been formally announced, but pushback against the proposals, which would make it more difficult for survivors to successfully have their cases heard and rectified, has already been vehement. And while a public comment period will allow an opportunity to prevent these rules from passing, there are lots of non-legislative avenues you can take to join the fight in the meantime.