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President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos take part in a roundtable in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on December 18, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos take part in a roundtable in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on December 18, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

With Deadline Looming, Groups Urge Public to Speak Out Against DeVos' Plan to Steamroll Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors

"If you support protections for survivors, submit a comment now"

Andrea Germanos

With the deadline for public comment fast approaching, advocacy groups are urging their supporters to let the Trump administration know its proposed changes to the federal law that bars sex-based discrimination in schools are unacceptable as they would "make it easier for schools to sweep campus sexual assault under the rug."

"If you support protections for survivors, submit a comment now," People For the American Way added in a tweet on  Wednesday.

When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled the proposed changes to how universities enforce Title IX in November, civil liberties groups expressed sharp criticism, with the ACLU fearing they "would tip the scales against those who raise their voices."

Laying out her opposition, NOW President Toni Van Pelt previously explained:

The single most damaging provision is the limitation to responding only to complaints that happen on campus. It is estimated that 87 percent of college students now live off campus; so that vast majority of victims of harassment and assault would have little protection. Their only recourse would be to report incidents to law enforcement authorities and there is a long history of these types of complaints being ignored.

Other harmful changes include a restrictive definition of sexual harassment that would require students to endure severe harassment before the school has to respond; allowing schools to adopt a criminal standard of evidence in deciding cases when Title IX is a civil rights law and a lower standard of evidence is more appropriate; setting up a situation for unbalanced investigations where schools are required to start with the presumption that the named perpetrator is not responsible (thus the victims are not to be believed); allowing alleged perpetrators to directly question their accusers causing more trauma; and, permitting religious exemptions for schools to avoid compliance with Title IX protections placing at serious risk LGBTQIA students, pregnant and parenting students (some are unmarried), and student who need access to birth control and abortion care.

Know Your IX, which is staging a "Hands Off IX" joint campaign with End Rape on Campus, also recently tweeted a graphic to sum up the proposal:

The changes would hit the LGBTQ community and students of color particularly hard, as they face higher levels of sexual assault.

"Under these new proposed rules, @michiganstateu would've had no responsibility to stop #LarryNassar from sexually abusing girls and young women, just because his victims told their coaches and athletic trainers instead of the #TitleIX coordinator," Rewire.News noted in a tweet on Wednesday.

Given the potential impacts, groups like Legal Voice are encouraging people to swiftly submit a formal comment by the January 28 midnight deadline.

But don't stop with just a comment, says the Network for Victim Recovery of DC. The legal and advocacy group says another way to stand against the administration's proposal is "to advocate for #survivors' rights on ur campus. Tell your school what YOU think about the proposed Title IX changes & ask them what their plan is!"

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