LANSING — In response to alarming rollbacks to Title IX protections for students being published on the Federal Register today, the Progressive Women’s Caucus sent Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a letter criticizing the proposed changes that include, among other things, redefining sexual harassment by limiting protections to rape only. The data show that sexual assault and harassment is chronically underreported in schools and on college campuses; 77 percent of colleges reported zero offenses of domestic or sexual violence in 2016. Despite evidence that 42 percent of survivors do not tell anyone about their assault, Secretary DeVos’s proposed rule change would lead even fewer young people to report harassment or assault by a fellow student, instructor or member of the school community, prioritizing the interests of perpetrators over survivors.

“This rule change cannot possibly be informed by facts or research, otherwise it would recognize the myriad behaviors that can interfere with a student’s freedom to participate in educational activities,” said state Rep. Erika Geiss, vice-chair of the Progressive Women’s Caucus. “Rather than identifying ways to holistically create a culture of respect and support in our schools, this rule sends survivors the message that their needs and experiences are less important than those of their attacker. Secretary DeVos should do her homework before issuing such irresponsible and reckless policy changes.”

As the Larry Nassar scandal unfolded in Michigan over the last year, Democratic and Republican lawmakers consulted with survivors, community organizations, state departments and universities to develop comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to support survivors, prevent future sexual assault by educating more young people earlier on, and hold perpetrators accountable. Members of the Progressive Women’s Caucus are concerned Secretary DeVos’s proposed rule change could undercut the progress made by Michigan lawmakers so far and make campuses feel even less supportive or safe for sexual assault survivors across the country.

“The policies we passed in the House this year to strengthen support for survivors and combat sexual assault were carefully crafted to meet Michigan’s unique needs. This misguided rule change blindly imposes a backward one-size-fits-all approach to addressing sexual assault in schools and universities, which only serves to harm survivors by resetting the balance in favor of alleged perpetrators,” said state Rep. Stephanie Chang, chair of the Progressive Women’s Caucus. “In the past year, survivors in Michigan and throughout the country have made it clear they will no longer be silenced. Instead of attacking the protections Title IX affords, we urge Secretary DeVos to join us in providing survivors the support they need and deserve.”

A copy of the letter the Progressive Women’s Caucus sent to Secretary DeVos is attached.