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Equal Rights Advocates, joined by a dozen women’s rights and survivor advocacy organizations around the country, filed an amicus brief last week in Neal v. Colorado State University-Pueblo, one of three cases challenging the validity of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) April 4, 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which addresses colleges’ responsibilities under Title IX with respect to campus sexual assault. OCR issues Dear Colleague Letters to advise the public of its interpretation of the civil rights laws it enforces, which include Title IX and other laws prohibiting discrimination in all schools that receive federal funding. 

In the CSU-Pueblo case, plaintiff Grant Neal was suspended from college after being found responsible for sexual assaulting a female student. He is suing several defendants, including the university, on the grounds that his suspension was unfair, and the U.S. government, on the grounds that the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter is invalid. Neal’s challenge to the validity of the Dear Colleague Letter is essentially a procedural one: he claims that OCR should have gone through a process known as notice and comment rulemaking, in which an administrative agency invites public comment on a proposed rule, before sending out the letter. But Neal doesn’t stop at seeking procedural relief: he wants to change the rules themselves. Specifically, he seeks to require colleges to use a much higher standard of proof in cases involving allegations of sexual violence -- “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing evidence” -- than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard called for in the Dear Colleague Letter. If he prevails, Neal’s lawsuit would eviscerate important Title IX protections for students that the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter sought to explain.     

The Dear Colleague Letter is a tremendously important tool for the enforcement of Title IX, and worth defending. Title IX’s implementing regulations have required colleges to “adopt and publish a prompt and equitable grievance procedure for the resolution of student and employee complaints” of sex discrimination since 1976. Yet colleges have failed to live up to their responsibilities – instead, we have frequently seen survivors re-traumatized in disciplinary proceedings, and institutions failing to impose appropriate sanctions for serious crimes. Our amicus brief explains why it is within OCR’s authority to issue guidance to schools explaining what it takes for a disciplinary proceeding to be “equitable,” and how the Dear Colleague Letter does exactly that. (Read our brief here.)

Our brief also explains why a “preponderance of the evidence” standard is necessary in these disciplinary proceedings. Neal argues that a heightened standard of proof should apply in college adjudications of sexual assault allegations because “school disciplinary proceedings concerning allegations of sexual misconduct may result in consequences as severe as those arising from criminal charges.” This just isn’t true. Criminal trials use a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard because of the liberty interest at stake—a conviction can result in incarceration, or even death. Colleges do not have the authority to impose those kinds of consequences on students. College disciplinary proceedings are also unlike other legal proceedings in which the Supreme Court has found that the higher standard of proof should apply, such as proceedings to strip people of citizenship, deport them, civilly commit them, or terminate their parental rights. Furthermore, imposing a higher burden of proof would give accused students an unfair advantage, and deter survivors of campus sexual assault from reporting or pursuing any relief.

Equal Rights Advocates is grateful to all of the organizations who signed on to this brief and provided input and support. We are committed to continuing to oppose attempts to undermine the enforcement of Title IX. 

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Yesterday, ERA proudly attended the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., where we joined with thousands of champions for gender equality to celebrate progress we have made and call for action to address the serious challenges still facing women and girls.

Today, feeling inspired and hopeful, we return with renewed focus and urgency to our work of ensuring that women and girls have safe places to work and learn. And we know there is plenty to do. 

Just last week we were reminded of how far we still have to go when Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to just six months in county jail (with the possibility of early release) for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford, expressing his concern that a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner

Judge Persky’s decision reflects an astonishing failure to comprehend the nature of sexual assault and to recognize the severe harm it causes to those who are assaulted. A judge should not have to be reminded that rape is an act of intentional violence – not something that happens by accident. That is why more than a million people have demanded Judge Persky be recalled. 

But we will not let Turner’s sentence become the last line of this story. 

We will continue to demand that our educational institutions and judicial systems take sexual violence seriously, whether it happens at Stanford University or in an anonymous office building. We will stand up for women like our clients at Stanford who were sexually assaulted by the same male student and want to make sure that it never happens again. 

And we will stand with women who are the most vulnerable to sexual violence and harassment at work, including janitors like our client Maria Bojorquez. We will keep fighting until workplaces and campuses are safe and welcoming for people of all genders.  

There is no excuse for violence against women, on campus or anywhere.

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What young girls watch and hear can have a lasting impact. New research looks at how often women characters speak in Disney films versus male characters, and finds a concerning trend.

Eater examines the lack of paid leave in the restaurant industry, and how it depresses the numbers of women chefs, managers, and owners.

The Atlantic looks at recent research into the prevalence of campus sexual assault and some of the challenges of packaging the problem into statistics and data.

Bard College becomes the latest college facing federal investigation over their handling of campus sexual assault.

As the Senate returned to session on Tuesday following the blizzard, Sen. Murkowski noticed that only women showed up to work.

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Sara and Celena (not their real names) are two Equal Rights Advocates clients; they are students at Stanford University. They share something else: they were also sexually assaulted, along with at least two other women, by the same male student. Their stories paint the picture of an institution that coddled and enabled a serial predator, even as multiple women bravely came forward to report him and demand that Stanford protecting their ability to get safely go to school.

Their stories, as told to Huffington Post and Palo Alto Weekly, were published online today. Read excerpts below; follow the links to read the rest.

From Huffington Post

How A Stanford Student Accused Of Assaulting Multiple Women Graduated

Sara, a recent graduate of Stanford University, is a survivor. During her freshman year at the school, she says, a male student she was dating turned violent after she refused to have sex with him. He choked her and threatened to kill her, whispering in her ear that no one would care if she died, she says.

Sara reported the attack to Stanford administrators, who then spoke with Robert, the alleged assailant. University administrators told Sara that he didn’t contest her story. 

The school imposed a no-contact order on Robert, meaning he had to keep his distance from Sara or face punishment. Sara says she was told to focus on her recovery. She agreed to the plan, and says she asked the school to notify her if other victims of his ever came forward. It is not clear if anyone at the university agreed to her request, though Sara says she was under the impression the school would let her know about any future allegations agains Robert. 

Two years later, in November 2014, Sara was horrified to figure out that two other female students, including a woman she taught as a graduate student, had told the university they had been assaulted by the same man. Despite the allegations, he had been allowed to remain on the Palo Alto, California, campus, and to graduate.

"To find out that all this time, the university just sit by and let it happen, it was deeply, deeply disturbing and horrifying," Sara told The Huffington Post.

Colleges and universities have faced mounting claims from women in recent years that they mishandled sexual assault cases, in violation of the gender equity law Title IX. The White House launched a task force dedicated to the issue. Despite this national attention -- and the growing understanding that a relatively small number of people are responsible for a majority of sex crimes -- Stanford, one of the most renowned universities in the world, apparently did not immediately connect the dots when separate women came forward, two years apart, to allege that they had been assaulted by the same male student. Even after a third woman came forward with a similar claim against the student, he was allowed to graduate.

After Robert graduated, a fourth woman, Annie, told the other women that she had been assaulted by him as well. She has never reported the alleged attack to the university.

It's not uncommon for victims of sexual assault to wait weeks or months to approach authorities. Many victims, researchers say, never report their assault at all. 

Sexual violence is depressingly common among collegiate women. Studies show that around 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted over the course of their college experience. Research released last year that examined male college students who carry out these attacks suggests that about 20 percent of perpetrators are repeat offenders. A study of military cadets and men in Boston found that serial offenders may actually be responsible for a majority of sexual assaults. Read more.

From Palo Alto Weekly:

Stanford University processes fail victims of sexual assault, students say

It was one of those impossibly warm, sunny fall days at Stanford University last October when four female students met, some for the first time, in a campus courtyard. They had found each other by chance, brought together by a shared experience: Each said they had been physically or sexually assaulted by the same male student over the course of his four years at Stanford, and each felt failed by the institution obligated to address such acts of violence perpetrated on and by its students.

It was Stanford's failure to adequately investigate each subsequent report of sexual and/or physical violence at the hands of the young man, "Robert Smith," that "allowed him to continue to act with impunity," said "Sara Ortiz," the first of the women to report allegations to Stanford, in 2012.

"Celena Dako" came next, reporting in April 2014 that Smith had allegedly tried to sexually assault her on campus the month before; then "Ashley Patel," who in June 2014 alleged that he had physically assaulted her off campus the summer prior. A fourth woman, "Annie Richardson," said Smith sexually assaulted her in 2010, their freshman year, but she never told anyone who worked for the university. Read more

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Equal Rights Advocates, joined by a dozen women’s rights and survivor advocacy organizations around the country, filed an amicus brief last week in Neal v. Colorado State University-Pueblo, one of three cases challenging the validity of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) April 4, 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which addresses colleges’ responsibilities under Title IX with respect to campus sexual assault. OCR issues Dear Colleague Letters to advise the public of its interpretation of the civil rights laws it enforces, which include Title IX and other laws prohibiting discrimination in all schools that receive federal funding. 

In the CSU-Pueblo case, plaintiff Grant Neal was suspended from college after being found responsible for sexual assaulting a female student. He is suing several defendants, including the university, on the grounds that his suspension was unfair, and the U.S. government, on the grounds that the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter is invalid. Neal’s challenge to the validity of the Dear Colleague Letter is essentially a procedural one: he claims that OCR should have gone through a process known as notice and comment rulemaking, in which an administrative agency invites public comment on a proposed rule, before sending out the letter. But Neal doesn’t stop at seeking procedural relief: he wants to change the rules themselves. Specifically, he seeks to require colleges to use a much higher standard of proof in cases involving allegations of sexual violence -- “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing evidence” -- than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard called for in the Dear Colleague Letter. If he prevails, Neal’s lawsuit would eviscerate important Title IX protections for students that the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter sought to explain.     

The Dear Colleague Letter is a tremendously important tool for the enforcement of Title IX, and worth defending. Title IX’s implementing regulations have required colleges to “adopt and publish a prompt and equitable grievance procedure for the resolution of student and employee complaints” of sex discrimination since 1976. Yet colleges have failed to live up to their responsibilities – instead, we have frequently seen survivors re-traumatized in disciplinary proceedings, and institutions failing to impose appropriate sanctions for serious crimes. Our amicus brief explains why it is within OCR’s authority to issue guidance to schools explaining what it takes for a disciplinary proceeding to be “equitable,” and how the Dear Colleague Letter does exactly that. (Read our brief here.)

Our brief also explains why a “preponderance of the evidence” standard is necessary in these disciplinary proceedings. Neal argues that a heightened standard of proof should apply in college adjudications of sexual assault allegations because “school disciplinary proceedings concerning allegations of sexual misconduct may result in consequences as severe as those arising from criminal charges.” This just isn’t true. Criminal trials use a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard because of the liberty interest at stake—a conviction can result in incarceration, or even death. Colleges do not have the authority to impose those kinds of consequences on students. College disciplinary proceedings are also unlike other legal proceedings in which the Supreme Court has found that the higher standard of proof should apply, such as proceedings to strip people of citizenship, deport them, civilly commit them, or terminate their parental rights. Furthermore, imposing a higher burden of proof would give accused students an unfair advantage, and deter survivors of campus sexual assault from reporting or pursuing any relief.

Equal Rights Advocates is grateful to all of the organizations who signed on to this brief and provided input and support. We are committed to continuing to oppose attempts to undermine the enforcement of Title IX. 

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Standing Up for Title IX in Federal Court

July 25, 2016 | by

Equal Rights Advocates, joined by a dozen women’s rights and survivor advocacy organizations around the country, filed an amicus brief last week in Neal v. Colorado State University-Pueblo, one of...
read more

Brock Turner and the Work We Still Have To Do

June 15, 2016 | by

Yesterday, ERA proudly attended the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., where we joined with thousands of champions for gender equality to celebrate progress we have made and call for...
read more

Feminist Reads This Week

January 28, 2016 | by

What young girls watch and hear can have a lasting impact. New research looks at how often women characters speak in Disney films versus male characters, and finds a concerning trend. Eater examines...
read more

In the News: How Many Victims Does It Take?

January 22, 2016 | by

Sara and Celena (not their real names) are two Equal Rights Advocates clients; they are students at Stanford University. They share something else: they were also sexually assaulted, along with at...
read more