At a recent town hall in Tipton, Missouri, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill turned the meeting into a platform to stand up for women’s rights. McCaskill took questions on everything from abortion to health care, but seemed especially passionate about the issue of Title IX, a federal law that requires schools and other institutions receiving funding from the federal government to ensure the equal rights of people of all genders.
Title IX is most famous for being used to fight campus sexual assault and domestic violence. The law was heavily enforced under the Obama administration, under which new guidelines were imposed to give survivors more rights, resources, and better reporting options. One in four women will experience sexual assault on college campuses, and yet education secretary Betsy DeVos‘ silence and apathy, as well as new budget proposals by the Trump administration, show that this widespread issue which continues to bar countless young women from equal education, indicate how little the issue matters to them.
President Trump’s proposed budget mandates staffing cuts to the Office of Civil Rights, which handles Title IX investigations, and to McCaskill, this is unacceptable.
“Since they have sent signals that this is no longer a priority for them, one would assume this is where they would cut staff,” McCaskill said at the town hall.
On college campuses across the nation, understaffing in Title IX offices that handle sexual assault cases has resulted in substantial and illegal delays in investigating sexual assaults. Staffing cuts at the Office of Civil Rights, which already struggled to handle its thousands of cases in a timely matter, will have disastrous consequences — and of course, the burden of this will fall on the shoulders of college-age women across the country.
“We’ve really turned the corner on making the process more fair, more transparent and certainly more professional so I would hate to backslide,” she said. McCaskill was referring to Obama-era guidelines that lowered the standard of evidence for those reporting being sexually assaulted. The guidelines have been praised by survivor’s rights advocates, who note that it’s often impossible for survivors, who suffer from PTSD or fear retribution, shame, and blame, to come forward immediately and provide seamless evidence.
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