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East County News Service

September 4, 2018 (San Diego) — Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sent a letter to college campuses reversing a campus sexual assault policy established by President Obama.  DeVos’ action would bolster the rights of those accused of sexual assault and reduce liability for colleges and universities, as the New York Times reported.

Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego)  has issued a statement criticizing DeVos’ action.  “The administration continues to show a blatant disregard for the rights and safety of our students,” Davis states. “Betsy DeVos's misguided policies regarding campus sexual misconduct only serve to further downplay the trauma of sexual assault and undo much of the progress made under the Obama Administration.” 

The Obama policy drew criticism from some for requiring only a “preponderance of evidence” to find that sexual assault had occurred and for not allowing cross-examination of those claiming to have been sexually assaulted. The action came after numerous campuses faced allegations of covering up serious sexual abuse by coaches and other staff.  

Davis, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, has introduced the Survivor Outreach and Support (SOS) Campus Act to create an independent on-campus advocate to help survivors of campus sexual assault navigate the administrative, legal, medical, and emotional challenges that result from an assault.

Along with being an advocate for survivors, the office would promote assault prevention. Senator Tim Kaine introduced a Senate version of the bill.

“Dealing with an assault can be an overwhelming experience – emotionally and physically,” said Rep. Davis.“This bill will create a critical resource for sexual assault survivors – an advocate who will be looking out for their rights and interests. For a survivor to know someone is there for them will also encourage more to come forward, helping to create an atmosphere on campuses that these crimes will not be tolerated. We have a responsibility to ensure that our colleges and universities are safe places for all students.”

The independent advocate would guide sexual assault victims who request assistance with:

  •  Information on how to report the assault to law enforcement
  • Getting emergency medical care
  • Crisis intervention counseling, and ongoing counseling
  • Obtaining legal services

The services may be provided on campus in consultation with a rape crisis center, legal organization or community-based organization.

The advocate office would also raise awareness on its services and help implement assault prevention measures.

The bill prohibits the retaliation, discipline, or penalizing a victim of sexual assault for reporting an assault to the independent advocate.