Governor Wolf Asks Secretary DeVos to Preserve Federal Victim Protection Policies

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today sent a personal letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking her to do everything in her power to preserve policies currently in place to protect victims of sexual violence and abuse on college campuses. Governor Wolf said he was deeply troubled by the Department’s consideration of revoking guidance issued under the previous administration, guidance which has been an invaluable resource for educators and school leaders in this state and nationwide.

“Every day, young people enter school classrooms and attend college with a purpose: pursuing an education that will lay the foundation for a rewarding life,” Governor Wolf said “We have no greater responsibility as public servants and leaders – whether a governor or Secretary of Education – to help the next generation in this worthwhile endeavor.”

“But for far too many students, their education is disrupted by acts of sexual harassment and violence. Nearly 20 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 experience sexual assault; more than one in five women and one in 20 men experience sexual violence during their college years.

“These statistics are troubling both because of their overwhelming scope, and because each instance represents a young person who has endured the most egregious violation of personal privacy, autonomy, and respect. And for every survivor who bravely comes forward to seek justice, or to protect others from the pain of these experiences, there are countless who stay silent, worried they will not be believed or that more harm will come to them from speaking up.”

Governor Wolf implored Secretary DeVos and her colleagues at the department to preserve these policies, which have paved the way for increased transparency, safety, and supports for all students. Randi Teplitz, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, joined Governor Wolf in denouncing the actions of the federal government.

“It is disheartening that in 2017, victims of sexual violence continue to battle stereotypes and rape myths. The reality is that the number of false reports of sexual assault is statistically insignificant,” Teplitz said. “The Pennsylvania Commission for Women is proud to stand with Governor Wolf in supporting and advancing initiatives that will continue to protect victims regardless of any misguided policies that are set forth by our federal government.”

Earlier this week, Governor Wolf joined legislators, advocates, and students to announce the upcoming introduction of a package of six bills as part of his “It’s On Us PA” campaign to combat sexual violence in K-12 schools and on college and university campuses.

Since the campaign began in January 2016, Governor Wolf and members of his administration have engaged hundreds of students, educators, administrators, advocates, healthcare personnel, researchers, campus safety and law enforcement officials, and policymakers to identify opportunities for improving systems to address and prevent sexual violence in schools and on campuses in Pennsylvania.

Read full text of the letter below. You can also view the letter on Scribd and as a PDF.

Dear Secretary DeVos:

Every day, young people enter school classrooms and attend college with a purpose: pursuing an education that will lay the foundation for a rewarding life. We have no greater responsibility as public servants and leaders – whether a governor or Secretary of Education – to help the next generation in this worthwhile endeavor.

But for far too many students, their education is disrupted by acts of sexual harassment and violence. Nearly 20 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 experience sexual assault; more than one in five women and one in 20 men experience sexual violence during their college years. These statistics are troubling both because of their overwhelming scope, and because each instance represents a young person who has endured the most egregious violation of personal privacy, autonomy, and respect. And for every survivor who bravely comes forward to seek justice, or to protect others from the pain of these experiences, there are countless who stay silent, worried they will not be believed or that more harm will come to them from speaking up.

These acts of violence, and the fearful quiet that frequently follows, stem from persistent and deeply rooted beliefs and attitudes about gender that restrict and confine people to outdated, harmful notions of masculinity and femininity. In such a culture – where boys are taught not to cry and girls are taught to smile and very few are taught what healthy, meaningful relationships look like – violence too often emerges. And although evidence suggests the rate of false reporting for sexual assault is consistent with other violent crimes (between 2-8 percent), misperceptions that false accusations are commonplace remain a significant hurdle, both for those charged with investigating and responding to reports and to those seeking to make them.

Title IX makes clear that all students have a right to equal access to a full education – in the classroom, on the field, and anywhere the pursuit of learning takes place. Under this civil rights law, schools have an obligation to effectively prevent and address gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence.

As governor of Pennsylvania – and as the father of two incredible daughters – it is a charge I take especially seriously. In January 2016, I launched the It’s On Us PA, a statewide campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault in K-12 schools and on college campuses.

Over the past year and a half, my administration has listened to and partnered with professionals who are on the front lines of this work – advocates, educators, administrators, law enforcement and campus safety officials, Title IX coordinators – to identify prevention and response efforts that help break down the formal and informal barriers that so many survivors face. I’m proud that 36 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania have invested nearly $1 million in evidence-based programs that create better systems and standards for sexual assault reporting and response.

We’ve also heard from students and survivors, who have shared not only their stories of burden but also of hope – hope that the adults charged with their education and care have the courage to create change and to create environments where all students can come forward and access the rights, resources, and supports they deserve, and that Title IX guarantees.

The Campus SaVE Act, led by our senior Senator Bob Casey, was an important update to the Cleary Act by requiring more transparency around campus sexual assault. Based on the actions taken this week by the Trump administration, congress needs to revisit this issue and strengthen our laws to ensure victims are not revictimized during investigations. Until that happens, I strongly encourage all colleges and universities within the commonwealth to continue using the standards set out in this 2011 policy.

The protections and policies advanced by the U.S. Department of Education over the past six years represent important progress in meeting that challenge. I am deeply troubled by the Department’s consideration of revoking guidance issued under the previous administration, guidance which has been an invaluable resource for educators and school leaders in this state and nationwide. I implore you and your colleagues at the Department to preserve these policies, which have paved the way for increased transparency, safety, and supports for all students.

Sincerely,

Governor Tom Wolf

Letter to Secretary Besty DeVos to Preserve Federal Victim Protection Policies by Governor Tom Wolf on Scribd