WLP Statement on Trump Administration’s Rollback of Protections for Sexual Assault Victims in School

The Office for Civil Rights in the United States Department of Education has formally rescinded longstanding guidance requiring federally funded schools to address allegations of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault.

The administration has rescinded two documents: A 2011 guidance known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, and a 2014 document containing questions and answers on Title IX.

“The actions taken by the Office for Civil Rights today are premised on incorrect assumptions,” says Women’s Law Project Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson. “It will return us to the times when campus sexual misconduct procedures were stacked against victims and forced them to leave their school to safely pursue their education.”

The rescission letter erroneously claims the 2011 Dear Colleague letter “impose[d] new mandates” related to resolving allegations of student-on-student sexual misconduct. In fact, the 2011 merely articulated a long-standing interpretation of Title IX, a landmark education equity law passed in 1972.

Much has been made about the evidentiary standard, or burden of proof, used in administrative hearings addressing allegations of sexual misconduct. The rescission letter misleadingly suggests that the Obama-era guidances lowered the standard of proof. In fact, most schools already used the preponderance standard, to the extent that they published any procedures at all (failure to articulate procedures is itself a violation of Title IX).

The preponderance standard is fully consistent with the requirements and spirit of civil rights laws, as well as with OCR’s past enforcement of Title IX, going all the way back to the 1975 regulations and subsequent Title IX guidance documents. Other educational civil rights statutes like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination by educational institutions and is also enforced by OCR, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which addresses employment discrimination including sexual harassment, rely on the preponderance standard.

Relying on a different standard of proof to adjudicate allegations of sexual misconduct than what is used to address other forms of discrimination would, in fact, be a form of discrimination itself. It is worth noting the preponderance standard is what is used when male students accused of sexual assault sue their schools for allegedly discriminating against them.

The rescission document was signed by Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson. Recently, Jackson smeared rape survivors by publicly stating the false, easily disproven claim that “90%” of sexual assault allegations on campuses “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.'”

These guidance documents have been replaced by an interim guidance that borrows liberally from criminal justice procedure, a system that is heavily weighted to favor accused defendants. By mimicking the criminal justice system, this attack on Title IX protections tips the scales against survivors and will make it even harder for them to come forward.

The rescission letter states OCR will pursue a new approach that “responds to the concerns of stakeholders,” and cites “accused students” before victims of sexual abuse–a priority list echoed in the action taken today.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution. 

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Report: PA Crisis Pregnancy Center Chain Misused State Funds

A taxpayer-funded Pennsylvania-based “crisis pregnancy center” chain called Real Alternatives has been misusing state funds for decades, according to the Pennsylvania Office of the Auditor General.

“It is outrageous that, by its own admission in court, Real Alternatives used hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars to fund its activities in other states,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in a statement.

In March, the organization sued in order to stop an audit of their finances.

The recently published 24-page performance audit revealed that between fiscal years 2012/13 and 2014/15 alone, Real Alternatives collected $497,368 from subcontractors through a 3 percent fee that the organization admitted was collected to promote their business outside of the state, rather than provide direct services for Pennsylvania women. According to DePasquale, they have been doing this since 1997, making the total much higher.

“We will never know how much money was taken out of the Commonwealth nor how many Pennsylvania women and children may have been affected because this company channeled our tax dollars to other states,” DePasquale said. “But, we need to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again.”

DePasquale said the state intends to recover the misspent funds.

Pennsylvania was the first state to fund crisis pregnancy centers with taxpayer money. Today, we are one a handful that diverts funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund to do it.

Many CPCs intentionally misinform and mislead women seeking pregnancy-related information, and some even force women to watch anti-abortion propaganda, according to multiple reports.

Real Alternatives is no stranger to controversy in Pennsylvania.

In addition to suing to block the state’s assessment of how they are spending state funds, the organization sued seeking an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. In August, a federal judge ruled against them.

Pennsylvania’s five-year $30.2 million dollar state grant for Real Alternatives was set to expire this summer, but was extended to September 30.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution. 

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We Filed a Brief Supporting the City of Philadelphia in the Fight for Equal Pay

The Women’s Law Project filed an amici brief in federal court on behalf of itself and 27 organizations supporting Philadelphia’s prior wage legislation. Despite passing into law unanimously last year, the equal pay ordinance has been stalled due to a lawsuit.

The ordinance prohibits reliance on and inquiry about a job candidate’s prior wage to determine his or her salary. Such a ban is important and necessary because salary offers based on a prior wage–rather than the job’s responsibilities and the applicants’ qualifications—perpetuate systemic pay discrimination. Despite federal and state laws adopted over fifty years ago to eradicate the gender wage gap, a significant pay gap persists that harms women, especially women of color. Typically, the gender wage gap is present early in a woman’s career, then widens throughout her life.

By removing prior wages from the conversation, the Philadelphia ordinance enables women to be paid based on objective criteria, like education and experience. When the ordinance passed into law last December, it was celebrated as a significant step forward in workplace equality.

However, as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia and Comcast Corp. began privately lobbying against the bill after its passage, trying to persuade Mayor Kenney to veto it.

The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce filed suit in early April.

As a result the ordinance, which was scheduled to go into effect on May 23, has stalled.

In our brief, we argue that Philadelphia’s prior wage legislation is a rational legislative policy decision like many longstanding laws regulating the employment relationship for the purpose of eliminating discrimination, and cite the many, many longstanding legal precedents supporting this argument.

“The fact is that Philadelphia’s prior wage ordinance is based on both evidence and legal precedent,” said WLP Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson, who co-authored the brief with Staff Attorney Amal Bass. “This law is especially important in Philadelphia, the poorest city of the ten most populous cities in the country. We’re talking about a commonsense anti-discrimination policy here, and it’s being blocked by business interests using faulty arguments.”

Read our brief here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution. 

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WLP Statement on Betsy DeVos’s Title IX Announcement

The Department of Education will “replace the current approach” to addressing sexual misconduct at schools that receive federal funding, according to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In remarks given this afternoon, DeVos repeatedly stated that “the current system” does not work. It remains unclear what exactly she is referring to since there is not one “current system” schools are using in administrative proceedings to resolve allegations of sexual misconduct.

What is needed now is more clarification, guidance, and enforcement–not less oversight.

School administrators have not always gotten it right. They certainly didn’t get it right for the many decades when sexual violence was almost entirely ignored.

Title IX is a landmark federal civil rights law designed to eliminate sexual discrimination in federally funded schools and education programs that was passed in 1972.

In 2011, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a guidance document known as a “Dear Colleague letter.” The guidance was issued in response to victim complaints that schools were failing to respond to their assaults. The 2011 guidance was designed to help school administrators understand and implement their responsibilities under Title IX to address sexual harassment and violence.

In her remarks, DeVos characterized the years since the guidance was issued, arguably the first time in history sexual violence has been seriously addressed since women earned equal education opportunities, as an “era of rule by letter.”

The Dear Colleague letter was a clarifying document. It did not contain new legal obligations.

“It is mind-boggling that the Secretary of Education can pretend to be interested in students’ welfare while characterizing the era wherein we finally took sexual assault in schools seriously as an ‘unraveling of justice,’” says Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney of the Women’s Law Project.

“It’s unsurprising that an administration led by a man who bragged about grabbing women between the legs would actively try to mitigate efforts to make schools accountable for addressing sexual assault and harassment,” says Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol E. Tracy.

“But here’s the situation. No matter what this administration says or does, you can’t un-ring a bell. These days, rape survivors refuse to be silenced. The culture has shifted. Title IX is not going anywhere, and schools are still obligated to provide educational opportunities free of sexual harassment and violence.”

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution. 

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What is the Economic Cost of Violence Against Women?

We already know that violence against women—including rape, domestic violence, harassment and stalking—can have profound physical, psychological and emotional effects on survivors. A consequence of sexual assault that is less discussed is the economic effect of gender-based violence.

Of course, the primary reason to work to try to prevent and appropriately remedy violence against women is because women are people who deserve lives free of discrimination and gender-based violence.

However, at this moment in time–as the Trump administration chips away at women’s access to health services and in the wake of  statements indicating a disregard for college rape survivors–it’s clear we must also discuss the economic cost of enabling violence. We explored this issue at length in our landmark publication, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

New research from Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) reviews the economic consequences of violence against women including high medical expenses, lower wages from diminished educational attainment, lost wages from missed work and job loss, debt and poor credit, and costs associated with housing instability.

This research underscores the perspective that informs our work at the Women’s Law Project and in the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health: women’s health, safety and economic security are deeply intertwined.

“In addition to the physical costs, the economic costs of violence continue long after abuse has ended, making survivors vulnerable to economic instability across the lifespan. We all have an interest in reducing violence against women and helping them cover the costs when it does occur, so survivors may fully recover and rebuild their lives,” said Director of IWPR’s Economic Security for Survivors Project Sarah Gonzalez Bocinski.

The IWPR fact sheet compiles research across four key areas of economic impact:

  • IPV assault, rape, and psychological abuse increase health care utilization, resulting in high out-of-pocket costs and medical debt. For example, one survey in the Pacific Northwest found that health care costs for those experiencing abuse were 42 percent higher than the costs for non-abused women.
  • Physical and psychological trauma and partner interference impede educational attainment. In addition to fewer years of higher education than those who did not experience violence, research also finds challenges to participating in and completing job training programs that can lead to better jobs with higher earnings.
  • Physical, psychological, and economic abuse often lead to job instability. In addition to lost days of paid work, research has found that experiencing violence often leads to job loss.
  • Debt and poor credit due to financial control and exploitation restricts access to safe housing and can lead to homelessness. Surveys of survivors have found that victims of IPV who seek to break free from an abusive relationship often face housing instability and homelessness due to high housing costs, economic insecurity, damaged credit, and/or a negative tenant history.

Download IWPR’s fact sheet as a PDF here.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution. 

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Talking Women & Healthcare at Tuesdays with Toomey

This morning, we were happy to once again join Tuesdays with Toomey, the grassroots advocacy group devoted to motivating Pennsylvanians to speak out on important issues while attempting to hold Sen. Pat Toomey accountable to his constituents.

Every Tuesday, Pennsylvanians from all over the state gather outside of Toomey’s offices to discuss healthcare, reproductive rights, Medicaid, jobs, and the environment. Today’s topic is women and healthcare, so Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol Tracy spoke to the crowd about reproductive healthcare, the misleading notion of “defunding” Planned Parenthood, and how right now, we need to watch out for attacks both from Congress and the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Here are Carol’s full remarks:

Good afternoon. My name is Carol Tracy and I am here representing the Women’s Law Project, a public interest legal organization devoted to protecting and advancing the rights of women and girls.

We work for equal access to healthcare, regardless of income, ZIPcode, race, religion and gender. We work for equal access to reproductive healthcare, including safe and legal abortion, and because it actually needs to STILL be said in 2017, equal access to contraception.

One way I think about the Women’s Law Project is that we are the de facto legal arm of the movement for women’s equality in Pennsylvania.

To that end, we have been legally representing abortion providers in Pennsylvania since 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade, so they can stay open. 

Protecting women’s rights also means monitoring the never-ending legislative attacks on women’s health and economic security, from Congress and the federal government, and from here within the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

Right now, that is quite a dangerous combination.

Like you, I was relieved to watch the vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act end in failure (though we know the fight is not over). Every single medical and healthcare expert warned that the Trumpcare would be disastrous for Pennsylvanians, indeed all Americans, and particularly women—especially the parts championed by our honoree today, the perpetually-somewhere-else Senator Pat Toomey.

Let’s start with defunding Planned Parenthood. So we’re clear, let’s define “defunding.” There is no line item in the budget that funds Planned Parenthood.

When we say “defunding Planned Parenthood,” what we are referring to is a plan to ban Medicaid dollars from reimbursing a healthcare provider for providing patients preventative healthcare, solely because that particular patient obtained her healthcare at Planned Parenthood.

… So much for all the rhetoric about “freedom” and “patient choice.”

Secondly, Pennsylvania routinely has disastrous scores for women’s health and economic security, and more than half of all pregnancies in Pennsylvania are unplanned. What on earth are we doing restricting access to preventative reproductive healthcare?

Third, and this is key: opponents of Planned Parenthood will tell you that Pennsylvanians should just go find another provider — except that every single analysis shows us there are not enough healthcare facilities to absorb the tens of thousands of patients Planned Parenthood sees in Pennsylvania every year.

They simply do not exist.

Planned Parenthood is a central part of the healthcare safety net in Pennsylvania, and if you cut that safety net, families will fall.

Pushing back on Congress is vital, and we saw the pressure pay off. But to be clear, we must focus on the state Legislature as well.

For starters, there’s an effort to “defund” Planned Parenthood on the state level also, through a bill called Senate Bill 300.

Then there’s Senate Bill 3, one of severe abortion restrictions in the country.

Senate Bill 3 is part of the Trump agenda to punish women for seeking abortion care, by criminalizing pregnancy termination after 20 weeks, and criminalizing a common, safe procedure.

It is dangerous, and it is unconstitutional, but that is not stopping them.

Only WE can stop it … by letting our lawmakers know we will NOT go back.

Our bodies are NOT chessboards for men in power to play games with–

Our lives are NOT collateral damage for a culture war manufactured by special interest groups–

Our children, no matter what their needs, are NOT a burden on society–

WE are not failing society needing contraception or maternity care or Medicaid for our babies and children with special needs, we ARE society. It’s our families that create our communities, that make up America. It is our so-called representatives—disproportionately men, disproportionately white, disproportionately rich—who are failing us.

Keep up with Tuesdays with Toomey on Facebook and twitter.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution. 

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Ottawa Police Latest to Adopt the “Philadelphia Case Review Model” for Reviewing Unfounded Rape Cases

Earlier this year, an explosive investigative report revealing widespread failure to investigate rape complaints across Canada. (Photo: Flickr via CC)

In the wake of ongoing scandals exposing widespread failure to properly investigate rape complaints, cities across the U.S. and Canada have been turning to our police accountability work in Philadelphia to help improve police response to sexual assault.

Earlier this year, a 20-month investigation analyzing data from 870 police forces across Canada revealed that Canadian police dismiss one in five sexual assault complaints as baseless, and “deep flaws at every step of the process.”

 

From Unfounded: Why Police Dismiss 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Claims as Baseless:

National policing data, compiled and reviewed by The Globe as part of its 20-month investigation, reveal that one of every five sexual-assault allegations in Canada is dismissed as baseless and thus unfounded. The result is a national unfounded rate of 19.39 per cent – nearly twice as high as it is for physical assault (10.84 per cent), and dramatically higher than that of other types of crime.

True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. The Globe’s findings suggest that police in Canada are closing a disproportionate number of rape cases as unfounded, a phenomenon that distorts the country’s crime statistics.

Inflated unfounded rates create the impression that police receive fewer complaints of sexual assault than they actually do. In turn, that gives the appearance that more complaints lead to an arrest.

This fall, Ottawa will become the latest police force to replicate a best practice for improving police response to sexual assault often referred to as the “Philadelphia Case Review Model.” The Philadelphia Model has been called the gold standard in policy accountability. Canada’s Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recently said, “Without a doubt, the Philadelphia model is one of the most exciting policing initiatives in this area.”

From the recent report in the Ottawa Sun:

The Ottawa police will convene a civilian panel this fall to review the way sexual assault cases have been investigated, with an eye to improving police procedures.

The so-called “Philadelphia model” of oversight is considered to have improved the way police handle sexual assault complaints in Philadelphia, where similar panels have conducted reviews since 2000.

“We’re embracing this internally. It might make us better,” said Ottawa police Insp. Jamie Dunlop.

The Philadelphia Case Review Model is an annual, advocate-led review of unfounded sexual assault files at the Philadelphia Police Department. Every year, the Women’s Law Project and fellow advocates meet and review unfounded sex crime files. We scour the files looking for anything awry, such as miscoding, a questionable lack of follow-up, victim interviews that turn into interrogations, missing rape-kit results, and victim-blaming statements that could dissuade victims from cooperating further with police.

In the late 1990s, the Women’s Law Project led the development of the Philadelphia Case Review Model in response to a scandal. In the fall of 1999, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

published a series of articles revealing that the PPD had downgraded thousands of rapes and other sex crimes to a noncriminal category for almost two decades.

This downgrading eliminated a full and complete investigation of thousands of sexual assault cases. Almost one third of all sex crime reports were buried in the non-crime code “2701‐Investigation of Person.” The victims were never advised that complaints had been shelved.

In addition to establishing the advocate-led review of unfounded rape cases, the Philadelphia police also conducted their own re-investigation going back five years, the statute of limitation for rape at the time. In total, 58% of the 3,119 cases originally coded 2701 were recoded as crimes, and subsequently investigated.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution. 

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