Sen Jackson and Victim Advocates Decry Trump Administration's New Title IX Regulations, Urge Bill to Ensure CA Schools Respond Appropriately to Reports of Sexual Assault

May 11, 2020

SACRAMENTO –As Trump Administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back Title IX protections for student survivors of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses in federal regulations released on May 7, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), victim advocates, and civil rights lawyers urge California lawmakers to pass pending Senate Bill 493, which will ensure California schools provide a transparent and fair process for all students involved in sexual misconduct investigations.

In direct response to the Trump Administrations’ harmful changes to Title IX — the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded schools — SB 493 would require state-funded colleges and universities to adopt common-sense processes that ensure a fair, transparent, consistent response to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and protect student victims and survivors from additional harm or re-traumatization.

“Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump Administration wastes no opportunity to be misogynistic and cruel.  The recently released Title IX regulations jeopardize the civil rights and safety of student survivors while discouraging others from reporting abuse,” said Senator Jackson. “SB 493 will ensure that California’s educational institutions protect survivors through policies that treat them with dignity and respect, while ensuring the civil rights of all students.”

The Trump Administration’s regulations announced on Thursday require schools to allow direct cross-examination of student victims, and would, in many cases, raise the standard of evidence from preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not occurred) to “clear and convincing” evidence, which is often impossible to prove in cases of sexual harassment and assault.

Senate Bill 493 would make it easier for students to report sexual harassment and violence by requiring schools to provide notice on students’ rights and how to report incidents; require schools to respond to off-campus incidents where they could interfere with a student’s access to education; and prohibit courtroom-style direct cross-examination of survivors by their assailants or their attorneys. It would also ensure adequate training for school officials involved, including training on implicit bias, trauma-informed practices, and the history of racial discrimination in school discipline.

Studies show at least one in five U.S. women, one in eight men, and one in four trans or gender non-conforming students survive sexual assault as undergraduates. Equally troubling, 63 percent of students – women and men -- report experiencing sexual harassment in college. Schools’ failure to adequately address, investigate, and protect students from sexual violence deprives students of their right to equal access to education. An estimated 34% of student survivors drop out of college.

“SB 493 will ensure that California institutions of higher education adequately address and respond to rampant sexual violence in our schools,” said Jessica Stender, Senior Counsel for Workplace Justice & Public Policy at the San Francisco based nonprofit Equal Rights Advocates, a co-sponsor of the bill. “The required procedures under the bill are common-sense, and they protect all California students’ civil rights and access to education, regardless of rollbacks at the federal level.”

Senator Jackson has long worked to implement protections for student survivors of sexual assault. In 2014, she joint-authored Senate Bill 967, which requires institutions of higher education to educate students about affirmative consent and sexual assault, improve response and prevention efforts, provide services for victims, and implement comprehensive prevention and outreach programs addressing sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. She also authored Senate Bill 186 in 2016 to allow community college districts to extend their jurisdictions beyond their campus borders and use their existing disciplinary process to discipline, expel or suspend students for off-campus sexual assault and sexual exploitation.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.

Equal Rights Advocates is a national gender justice organization committed to protecting and expanding civil rights and equal access to educational and workplace opportunities for women, girls, and people of marginalized gender identities.