Testimony on Rollback of Title IX Sexual Assault Protection to U.S. Dept. of Education

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October 12, 2017

Testimony of Karen Strickland, AFT Washington President, on Rollback of Title IX Regulations at a U.S. Department of Education Hearing, Oct. 2017
 
Good afternoon. My name is Karen Strickland and I was a faculty member for 20 years at a community college in Seattle, Washington. As the president of the American Federation of Teachers, I am hear to represent roughly 6500 education employees, the majority of whom work in higher education.
 
For decades women and allies have fought to end sexual assault. In spite of the courageous testimony from many survivors, legislative advocacy to protect the rights of survivors, increased enforcement of laws against sexual assault, and efforts to raise awareness and educate the public, we continue to live in a country in which it is estimated that 20% of women and 6% of men will be sexually assaulted while at college.
 
The efforts made to end sexual assault has been monumental and continuous. Some progress has been made, such as laws that prevent blaming the victim and policies that provide greater support services for survivors. Sexual assault is now a subject that we talk about publicly, as opposed to the secrecy that surrounded it decades ago.
 
And yet, the progress made is not proportionate to the effort made to end it or the seriousness of the problem. We continue to see high rates of many forms of sexual assault at schools and colleges and in the workplace. The lives of survivors are, at best, disrupted; at worst, destroyed. Educational careers are interrupted or discontinued and the effects of the assault often linger for many years into the future.
 
Secretary DeVos’ proposed roll-back of regulations that help us to reduce sexual assault is  unconscionable and counter-productive. The changes being proposed turn back the clock to a time when victims couldn’t acknowledge they’d been assaulted or seek the help they needed for fear of retaliation, humiliation, and blame. 
 
These rollbacks send a message to perpetrators that they need not take full responsibility for their behavior and to victims that speaking out is practically pointless and puts them at risk of re-victimization. We figured out years ago that interrogating a victim and blaming her for being assaulted either implicitly or explicitly is unjust, reduces the likelihood of pursuing legal redress, and worsens the consequences of the assault.
 
I volunteered on a rape hotline back in the 1980s and when doing educational workshops, we would often share the analogy of a man in a nice suit, expensive watch, and wallet full of cash being robbed. The big difference between that image and sexual assault, of course, is that this man wouldn’t have been questioned as to why he was wearing that nice watch, or those expensive clothes…and for god’s sake, why would he carry so much cash!
 
I want to share with you the goals of a bill passed in Washington, passed with bipartisan support. SB 5719 was passed in 2015 to: 
  • Promote the awareness of campus sexual violence, reduce the occurrence of campus sexual violence, and enhance student safety; 
  • Develop recommendations to improve institutional campus sexual violence policies and procedures; and
  • Develop recommendations for improving collaboration on these issues among institutions of higher education and between institutions of higher education and law enforcement.
The task force set up to figure out how to achieve these goals was made up of college presidents, community, law enforcement and more. These are people who understand the issue of sexual assault and higher education. The 17 recommendations of the task force are all about making greater investments in addressing the issue of sexual assault - really, just the opposite of the current plan of the DOE to do less. These recommendations reflect the will to finally stop the sexual assault of college students. 
 
The Department of Education should similarly commit itself to stopping the sexual assault of college students. To do that, maintaining the regulations is essential . . . and shows young people, whether the perpetrator or victim, that sexual assault is a serious matter that will not be tolerated.