The director of a Utah coalition says Thursday's announcement by United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an insult to victims of sexual assault.
“Secretary DeVos’ comments, while they were fairly ambiguous, the message was crystal clear,” says Turner Bitton, executive director for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a nonprofit organization that provides education and resources to various groups around the state.
Bitton and his group work as advocates for survivors of sexual violence.
DeVos announced she is pushing for an end to the Obama-era rules for Title IX, the law requiring universities to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, as well as ensure a safe and equal environment for all students.is responding to a possible loss of federal support for programs that protect victims of sexual assault.
He expects the announcement is a precursor to ending sexual assault procedural and processing guidance from the federal government. The education secretary says she is reviewing guidelines some consider to be unfair toward the accused. Included in the law is the “dear colleague” letter that outlines how schools should handle sexual assault allegations.
“I don’t necessarily believe that institutions will quit acting in the best interest of sexual violence survivors,” Bitton said. “Fortunately for the state of Utah, many of our colleges and institutions work well with the community programs in their areas. They’re doing a lot of programming, doing a lot of work to help provide information on sexual violence.”
Although he sees an increase in awareness and advocacy at the local level Bitton says the lack of support from the federal government poses a problem for survivors of sexual violence, especially at universities.
“Without the ‘dear colleague’ letter, really what we risk doing is going back to a day when someone who experienced sexual violence was on their own,’’ he said.
DeVos is not revealing specifics about how she plans to approach Title IX. Bitton says until she does he is being proactive in encouraging universities and colleges to support policies that will still put sexual assault survivors first.