San Francisco

Victims' Rights Advocates Gather in San Francisco

A large group of victims’ rights advocates gathered outside the San Francisco Federal Courthouse Thursday as new guidelines issued last fall by Education Secretary Betsy Devos, that impact how college campuses all over the country handle sexual assault reports, are at stake.

Demonstrators held signs that read "Stop Betsy" and "#MeToo," standing up for what they say are basic civil rights.

A judge heard oral arguments Thursday and will decide if the merits of the case justify moving forward. However, as a woman who reported rape on campus and is going through the process put it, she has to now work against the school to get justice.

"Last year, I experienced the worst day of my life," said sexual assault survivor and college student Amelia Wagner. "In late October of 2017, I was raped by a fellow student."

Wagner goes to college in Humboldt County and isn’t directly involved in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration. However, she summons the courage to speak before supporters, as she says, she’s the product of a now-broken system.

"Students should not be punished for reporting rape," she said. "I hope changes from this case today mean that someday, students can report rape and feel safe on campus, without having to feel that they’re working against the school, and having it consume their lives."

At a recent senate education hearing on Ttitle IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination at publicly-funded institutions, Devos said the pendulum has swung too far toward the rights of the accuser, at the expense of the accused.

"The guidance letter that the last admin put out with respect to this issue was one that has been very confusing for institutions," Devos said. "And it’s also one that has in many cases not really respected the due process rights of both parties involved in a complaint."

Now, new guidelines demand, among other things, that schools promote mutual non-contact rules, that lawyers say affect where both parties can go and what they can do.

"That restrict and limit their ability to use the gym, to go to certain classes, to live in certain places. Again, as a direct consequence of coming forward and reporting that they’ve been sexually assaulted," said Robin Thurston.

The new rules also relax how long a school can take to investigate. Previously it was 60 days, now it’s "indefinite."

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