State lawmakers are pushing back on a proposed change to Title IX regulations that would overhaul rules for handling sexual assault and rape on college campuses.
The proposed change by the U.S. Department of Education would narrow cases that schools would investigate and are meant to give more rights to those accused.
But lawmakers argue in a letter circulated by Queens Assemblywoman Nily Rozic that the rules changes will have a detrimental effect on the filing of justifiable complaints.
“The proposed rule changes are a stark departure from these civil rights protections and would establish new guidance that would shift the focus from protecting complainants to the rights of respondents,” the letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos states. “As such, we believe institutions would be incentivized to neglect cases of sexual assault and rape creating a significant ripple effect — campuses would be more unsafe and survivors would be less likely to come forward.”
The letter points to the colleges being required under the changes to hold live hearings that would allow the accused to be able to cross-examine the complainant, a move that likely benefits upper income students who could afford an attorney.
“Factoring in this proposed change with the new requirement that would call for higher evidentiary standards, it is clear that the emphasis in handling cases of rape and sexual assault is no longer on the survivor and their path of recourse,” the letter states.
“Moreover, the very fact that an accused could be in a position of cross-examining the victim in a live hearing setting greatly increases the likelihood of victim intimidation and will have a chilling effect on victims’ willingness to come forward, further endangering others on campus who might themselves fall prey to such offenders.”
Since first introduced in November, the proposed rules changes have drawn criticism from women’s groups as well as Democratic lawmakers, while DeVos has pointed to a system in need of balancing.
In 2015, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to an overhaul in campus sexual assault policies that included a student bill of rights stating their ability to confidentially report crimes to authorities, including the police. Schools must also exempt a potential victim or survivor from campus drug and alcohol policies when an incident is reported.
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