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How will federal enforcement of sexual assault policies change under a Trump presidency?

<p>Experts on Title IX policy have expressed concerns about how the law&nbsp;will change under Trump's presidency.&nbsp;</p>

Experts on Title IX policy have expressed concerns about how the law will change under Trump's presidency. 

After Donald Trump's victory, many have raised concerns about the possibility of his administration rescinding policies on sexual assault created during President Obama's time in office.

Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, was expanded during the Obama Administration. In 2011, the Department of Education circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter prompting universities to recognize sexual harassment and sexual assault as forms of harassment prohibited under Title IX.

However, Republicans have in the past criticized the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights for overstepping its legal authority—leading some to worry about what the Trump administration will do regarding Title IX.

“I don’t think the federal government is going to care much about what universities are doing to address sexual assault in colleges," said senior Dana Raphael, a campus advocate against sexual assault and a Chronicle columnist who also runs a sexual assault survivor support group. "It honestly just depends on how much of a profile the issue gets. If there are particularly excited congressmen to get certain Title IX requirements rolled back at the federal level, I definitely think there is a chance of that happening."

Howard Kallem, director of Title IX compliance, noted that there are "several vehicles that a Trump administration could take" to alter the policies.

Trump could revoke or modify the Dear Colleague letter, Kallem said, explaining federal guidance on handling sexual assault on college campuses has historically changed with new administrations.

“There is a lot of concern about the 'preponderance of evidence' standards and whether that can be changed,” Kallem said.

However, the substantial case law developed around issues of sexual assault and sexual violence in the past 15 years may limit some of the changes that the Trump administration is able to make, Kallem said. 

The Trump administration could also reduce the budget for OCR. A reduced budget could lead to a slower handling of complaints and a lack of responsiveness to sexual assault cases—reversing much of the work Obama did to force colleges to crack down on sexual violence.

“Students started filing complaints against their universities, and the federal government was investigating them and censuring a large number of pretty prominent universities in their handling of sexual assault,” Raphael said. “That is really all thanks to President Obama and the Office of Civil Rights making schools accountable to their students.”

The Republican National Party Platform recently criticized the Obama Administration for micromanaging the manner in which colleges and universities deal with sexual abuse allegations. The platform stated that sexual assault reports should be resolved only by law enforcement and academic institutions should play a minimal role in the process.

But Raphael noted that Trump's plans are very unpredictable.

"Trump is not really a Republican," she said. "We have no idea what he is going to do."

Mac McCorkle, associate professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, said that he thinks the Trump administration would have a hard time "doing something dramatic about Title IX."

"I am much less confident he can be kept from acting in a prejudiced way on issues of gay rights, on issues of LGBT communities,” McCorkle said. “I think that on those things where he can set a tone and keep people from aggressively promoting equality, he would do that.”

Eliminating Title IX altogether would require legislative action and complete partisan support, making it improbable for the Trump administration, McCorkle noted.

Raphael said that she hopes Title IX can remain intact during Trump's presidency, even if it is not enforced as strictly.

"That would not be as hard to bounce back from," she said. "What would be hard to bounce back from is a new Dear Colleagues letter that rolls back all the stuff that came out in the 2011 Dear Colleagues letter."


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