Good morning and thank you all for inviting me to join you today. As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, I am glad to be here to discuss the Justice Department’s efforts to combat campus sexual assault, and to hear from all of you - about what is working and the many challenges that remain.
Over the next few weeks, my colleagues from the Departments of Justice and Education will tour schools across the country to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. On this tour, we will meet with students and faculty, like many of you, who are working every day to fight sexual violence and to train young people about how to prevent and report this type of activity.
Campus sexual assault is a civil rights issue. Sexual assault denies students their right to live and learn in a safe educational environment – and it is a form of sex discrimination that is disproportionately perpetrated against women.
The Justice Department is committed to using all of the tools in our arsenal to combat sexual violence. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibit sex discrimination in education programs—including sexual assault and harassment. The department’s Office on Violence Against Women runs The Grants to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking on Campus Program to encourage universities to adopt comprehensive and coordinated responses that ensure victim safety, offender accountability and prevention of these crimes.
These laws require universities to respond to complaints of sexual assault, to investigate where appropriate and to ensure that students are provided a prompt and impartial resolution to their claims. When universities fail to respond adequately to campus sexual assault, they engage in their own sex discrimination by forcing the affected students to attend school in a hostile sex-based environment.
Put simply, when a student enters a college campus, they have a right to live and learn in a safe and nurturing environment, regardless of their gender. The Justice Department and the Obama administration are committed to defending this right.
In fact, the Civil Rights Division’s recent agreement with the University of Montana can serve as a model for campuses across the nation seeking to ensure that women’s educational opportunities are not limited by sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Last year, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana completed a series of investigations stemming from allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment at the University of Montana and in the greater Missoula community. These investigations included a review of the university’s policies for handling sexual assault complaints as well as an investigation of allegations that two local police forces were systematically failing to protect women victims of sexual assault.
In May 2013, working with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the division entered into a comprehensive agreement with the University of Montana to ensure that it responds swiftly and effectively to allegations of sexual assault and harassment by students. The division also entered into agreements with both police forces to achieve reforms to ensure that police services are delivered in a nondiscriminatory fashion, that sex crimes are investigated and that victims are treated fairly and with respect.
The Civil Rights Division is also a member of the president’s “Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.” Created this year by President Obama, the task force works to increase transparency, enforcement, public awareness and interagency coordination to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.
Education is the great equalizer—it offers a lifeline to young men and women for whom a successful future is not predetermined. And for all students to have the opportunity to succeed, all students must feel safe and have confidence in schools’ demonstrated commitment to protect them. For that reason, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce our nation’s civil rights laws – to expand educational opportunities for women, to ensure that sex discrimination does not prevent students from achieving their goals and to foster safe and nurturing environments where every student has an equal chance to prosper. Thank you.