Seven students are joining a National Women's Law Center (NWLC) lawsuit challenging new guidelines related to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits education discrimination on the basis of sex. Some of their stories suggest that Democrats' distorted descriptions of the changes could be doing real damage.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos formally issued the new rules—set to take place August 14—in May 2020, following a massive influx of public comments since she first proposed them back in 2018. But her proposal also ushered in a wave of hyperbolic, misleading, and dishonest claims about what these proposed changes would mean.
Reality-challenged rhetoric about the rule changes has come from folks claiming to represent students' best interests, like the NWLC. But it's hard to see how letting young people think the federal government wants schools to stop punishing rapists benefits students—or anyone but Democrats looking to portray the Trump administration as soft on campus rape.
In the NWLC lawsuit, "plaintiffs include a fifth grader in Michigan who fears that her elementary school will not be required to formally investigate and punish her classmate for assaulting her four times over two months" and "a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who decided not to formally report her rape at an off-campus apartment because she believed that the final rule rendered her complaint futile," according to The New York Times.
That's incredibly sad, since of course there's nothing in the new rules saying schools shouldn't investigate and punish students for sexual assault. (Read more details about what the changes will do here.) Students are being misled by what's turning out to be a damaging disinformation campaign.
Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, told the Times "the fear these students are living with show how real the consequences are of DeVos's rule."
But much of this student fear isn't rooted in what the DeVos rules actually say, it's driven by Democratic politicians and groups like the NWLC fearmongering about them.
When the new rules were first released, Sen. Mark Warner (D–Va.) said they would "undoubtedly make students less safe," while Rep. Barbara Lee (D–Calif.) called them an attack on "student survivors' rights." And Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, said they send "the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault."
The NWLC is far from alone in legally challenging the Department of Education's new Title IX guidance. In May, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against DeVos and the Education Department, on behalf advocacy group Know Your IX.
And 18 state attorneys general (AGs) are challenging the new rules, in an action filed June 4 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and led by Democratic attorneys general Xavier Becerra of California, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and Gubir Grewal of New Jersey.
Attorneys general for Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.—all Democrats—are also part of the lawsuit.
New York is also (separately) challenging the rules, with state Attorney General Letitia James explicitly invoking Trump in her explanation.
"The president has repeatedly shown that he doesn't think sexual harassment is a serious matter, but his callousness now threatens our youngest and most vulnerable and could increase the likelihood of sexual harassment and abuse of students in schools," James said in an announcement about the suit. The announcement misleadingly describes DeVos' rules as "undo[ing] protections required by Title IX," as if prohibitions of gender and sex discrimination at schools will no longer exist.
Presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden has already vowed to reverse the rule changes if elected.
It seems pretty clear that despite the seriousness of the issues involved, Title IX has become yet another set of partisan talking points to tussle over. But those using the DeVos changes to spread misinformation about campus assault might want to think about who is really being harmed by their rhetoric.