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Rights Protection Group Sues US Over New Campus Sex Assault Rules

FILE - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos makes remarks during a major policy address on Title IX enforcement, which in college covers sexual harassment, rape and assault, at George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, Sept. 7, 2017.

Saying Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has created a double standard that is devastating for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Thursday to block recently published rules on handling campus assaults.

The rule changes published last week "slash schools' obligations to respond to reports of sexual harassment and assault" and create a "second-class standard for reports of sexual harassment and assault," the lawsuit claims.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of four advocacy groups, including Know Your IX (a reference to the 1972 education law known as Title IX) and Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, to block DeVos' rule changes before they are implemented August 14.

"Betsy DeVos has created a double standard that is devastating for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, who are overwhelmingly women and girls. We are suing to make sure this double standard never takes effect," Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, said in a statement.

The U.S. Education Department issued the new rules that modify Title IX, a law that prohibits "discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance."

The new provisions bolster the rights of due process of the accused, reduce legal liabilities for schools and colleges, and narrow the scope of cases schools will be required to investigate.

DeVos argued that the new rules would replace policies from the Obama administration that pressured schools to violate the rights of accused students.

"This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process. We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation's schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues," she said in a statement last week.

The ACLU and law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP challenged her assertion, saying in a released statement that, "the rule subjects reports of sexual harassment to a different and more skeptical review than reports of harassment based on race, national origin, or disability," and will lead to 32% fewer reports of sexual harassment and assault.

The suit also argues that under the new rule, schools will not be required to investigate alleged sexual assault incidents that happen off-campus or during a study abroad program. A study published five months ago by the American Psychological Association found that students experience a significantly increased risk of rape and other forms of sexual assault while studying abroad in non-English-speaking countries.

"The new Title IX regulations are a blatant threat to the years of work to create safe, supportive academic environments for students across the gender spectrum," Ashley Sawyer, a policy director at Girls for Gender Equity, said in a statement. "We want to do everything we can to ensure that the true spirit and original intent of Title IX remains, to ensure that everyone has meaningful access to education, without being hindered by sexual violence."