How Do States Handle Sexual Assault on Campus In The Trump Era?

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 There are 306 sexual-violence investigations currently pending at postsecondary institutions, according to the Office for Civil Rights’s most recent report, which was ultimately released on Thursday.

Each week for the past two years, OCR, an office within the Department of Education, has released the list of active probes, but it failed to do so through mid-day Thursday, bucking the routine of earlier release. The absence was interpreted by some—including the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Patty Murray—as a signal that the Trump Administration would be less transparent about and aggressive against sexual assault. When the Education Department did eventually release the contemporary list of investigations, it attributed the delay to a “misunderstanding.”

That being said, Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos’s commitment to decentralized education—via her positions on school choice and the incorrect assertion she made at her Senate confirmation hearing that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act could be carried out at the state level—raises questions about how campus sexual assault could be handled by state governments. (She later backtracked on her comments about special education, saying she would enforce the federal law.) I spoke with Andrew Morse, a higher-education consultant and a co-author of a December 2015 report on states’ campus sexual-violence legislation, about how equipped state legislatures are to respond to a scaled back federal stance in regulating sexual assault. Our conversation below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Hayley Glatter: When you wrote your report in December 2015, there were 23 states that had taken some sort of legislative action on campus sexual violence. Nine of them had actually enacted policy. What are the trends now in state legislatures related to Title IX enforcement?

Andrew Morse: It’s a little uneven across the states. There isn’t necessarily explicit policy architecture across the states directing Title IX compliance. What we did find is that there were a number of policy proposals that sought to add how campuses in particular address incidents of sexual violence as one element of Title IX compliance. There’s not really consistency in protecting victims of sexual violence broadly. For instance, a 2015 analysis noted that though all 50 states have one criminal statute addressing sexual assault broadly—not just on campus—the concepts articulated in those statutes were often ill-defined or undefined and do not produce adequate support structures to adjudicate the handling of campus sexual assault.

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