By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Attorneys general from Pennsylvania, New Mexico and more than a dozen other states are urging U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to keep in place protections for victims of sexual assault on college campuses.
The attorneys on Wednesday sent a letter to DeVos voicing their concerns about reports that suggest her office is preparing to roll back guidance from President Barack Obama’s era for stepped-up investigations of sexual assault at universities and colleges across the country.
DeVos said last week that the current system isn’t working. While allegations of sexual assault can’t be dismissed, she said, a system without due process ultimately will serve no one.
The debate continues to percolate following remarks made by the Education Department’s top civil rights official, Candice Jackson, who said the vast majority of sexual assault claims resulted from both parties having been drunk. Jackson has repeatedly apologized for her comments.
In their letter, the attorneys general say they see the effects sexual assault has on victims, the educational institutions themselves and the communities.
“We’re calling on Secretary DeVos to listen to law enforcement and trust survivors of sexual assault by keeping these protections in place and putting student safety first,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said in a statement issued Wednesday.
A dozen schools in Shapiro’s state are being investigated for improperly handling sexual assault allegations made by students.
In New Mexico, a 2016 investigation by the U.S. Justice Department found that state’s flagship university had failed in its handling of such cases.
“Violence on America’s campuses must be taken seriously,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat.
He noted that rolling back the guidance would amount to turning back the clock on the progress some states have made when it comes to improving reporting and implementing programs aimed at curbing sexual assaults.
As of last week, there were 344 open sexual violence investigations at 242 postsecondary schools, according to a Title IX report provided by the Education Department.
The attorneys general said in their letter that any effort to address the problem of sexual assault on college campuses “must be deliberate and allow for meaningful input from all stakeholders, and it must focus on the ultimate goal of ensuring that all students are protected from discrimination, including sexual harassment, assault, stalking and domestic violence, under Title IX.”