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Victims groups sue Department of Education over sexual misconduct guidelines

By Danielle Haynes
Victims groups sue Department of Education over sexual misconduct guidelines
Victims rights groups are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over a rollback of Obama-era guidelines for how colleges and universities handle sexual misconduct allegations. File Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A group of victims rights organizations sued the Department of Education on Thursday over its rollback of Obama-era guidelines on sexual misconduct on campus.

The groups, which include SurvJustice Inc., Equal Rights Advocates and Victim Rights Law Center, announced the lawsuit in a news conference outside the department's building in Washington, D.C.

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Representatives said the Education Department's decision to change the guidelines could prohibit victims from reporting sexual assault or misconduct in the future.

"They fear they are no longer able to get a fair shake," said Stacy Malone, executive director of the Victim Rights Law Center. "Their reports will not be taken seriously because survivors will be dismissed as women who had drunk regret sex as opposed to who they really are, victims of sexual violence."

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In 2011, the Obama administration, under Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said schools should use the "preponderance of evidence" when judging sexual misconduct cases under Title IX. The department under Education Secretary Betsy Devos, though, said colleges and universities should use a higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence" when judging such cases.

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"There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes," Devos said when announcing the interim guidance in November. Earlier in the month, she said a new direction was needed to balance rights of victims and the accused.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, named the Education Department, Devos and Candice Jackson, a civil rights official in the department.

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