Washington Update (May 2, 2014)

The momentum continues to build around ending sexual assault on college campuses. This week we saw new announcements from the White House and the Department of Education, capping off a long push by AAUW and some key allies.

Just over a year ago, AAUW successfully led efforts to make campus safety a part of VAWA reauthorization – messages from AAUW members in all 50 states helped make this possible! AAUW has continued to track the implementation of that campus safety law, and we look forward to schools coming into compliance this year. As more and more survivors stepped forward and publicly discussed their campus experiences, enforcement efforts at the Department of Education ramped up, and the White House officially created a Campus Sexual Assault Task Force and issued a new call to action for safer campuses.

This week was the culmination of all those efforts on many different levels. The White House Task Force released recommendations, launched a useful new website, and convened stakeholders here in Washington, D.C., to keep the conversation going. In addition, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a helpful FAQ document to guide schools on how to effectively implement Title IX and respond to campus sexual assault complaints — including reaffirming that the new VAWA amendments to the Clery Act do not in any way alter or weaken a school’s obligations under Title IX.

As I told U.S. News and World Report this week, the website and the new task force report could be game-changers. “I think many colleges see campus sexual assault as a public relations problem, and I would really like for today to turn that on its head,” I said. “I want colleges to step up to the plate and say, ‘We know this is an issue, we’re taking our head out of the sand, we’ve got these tools and we’re now going to move forward on trying to make this better.'”

Here at AAUW, we couldn’t be more pleased with this week’s developments. It’s well past the time for schools to take action when it comes to ending violence on campus, and we know that the Obama administration can also do more to help make this happen. Keep reading for more details on this week’s announcement and ways to spread the word, and make sure to pat yourself on the back for being a part of the force behind this exciting week.

Yours in AAUW,
Lisa M. Maatz
Vice President of Government Relations

Subscribe to Washington Update

The One Thing You Must Do

This week the Senate held a procedural vote on raising the federal minimum wage. Although that voted failed to pass, the Senate is expected to take up the issue again. Working women and their families shouldn’t live in poverty: Tell your members of Congress to support raising the federal minimum wage!

But Because You Want to Do More

Congress may be back in D.C. for a few weeks, but they’ve got recesses coming up. A congressional recess is a great opportunity to make your voice heard through writing letters to the editor or op-eds. You can also hold an in-district meeting or issue forum – not to mention that all of these activities are good to do year-round, regardless of whether Congress is on recess or not!

Get Social

Want to educate people about campus sexual assault but not quite sure of what to say? Share our blog post about the common questions people have about this issue.

New Resources

For the first time, the Department of Education published the list of colleges and universities currently under investigation for Title IX complaints. The new transparency is meant to increase awareness and dialogue around the issue of sexual assault and violence.

Does your state fund abstinence-only sexuality education? SIECUS, a sexual health education group, just released new state profiles detailing how federal funds are used in each state for comprehensive sex education and/or abstinence-only sex education programs.

Top Stories

On Paper, Jobs Numbers Exceeded Expectations
Today, the Department of Labor announced that 288,000 jobs were added to the U.S economy in April and the unemployment rate declined to 6.3 percent. This is the lowest unemployment rate since before the financial crisis in September 2008; however, the labor force participation rate dropped by 800,000 people, highlighting the lingering challenges facing our economy and particularly the plight of the long-term unemployed. The April national unemployment rate was 5.7 percent for women.

  • AAUW supports the extension of emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. These benefits enable workers to keep them and their families out of poverty while they continue to look for work. Every week that passes without Congress extending this program means 72,000 more people lose their benefits. Tell Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed!

Tackling Campus Sexual Assault under Title IX
This week, the Obama administration unveiled new resources for students and schools to help protect students from sexual violence under Title IX. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report recommending that colleges implement campus climate surveys and suggesting best practices for campus policies, judicial proceedings, and ways to work with local resources to prevent and respond to sexual assault. In conjunction with the report, the Department of Justice announced plans to support research on pilot programs to treat sexual assault perpetrators on college campus. No programs currently exist to address this issue. Additionally, the Department of Education unveiled a new website, NotAlone.gov, which consolidates resources for students and schools.

Military Sexual Assault Reports Increase 50 Percent
On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that reports of sexual assault by service members increased by 50 percent in 2013, up to 5,061 (compared to 3,374 in 2012). Analysts suggested that this increase may not represent an overall increase in sexual assaults, but rather increased confidence in the reporting system due to Congressional reforms. Hagel also announced six new initiatives to address this issue, including expanded outreach to male survivors of sexual assault.

  • AAUW commends the work of the Defense Department to address the problem of sexual assault, but believes more must be done to end this problem once and for all. Tell your representatives to support removing the crime of sexual assault from the military chain of command.

State Spotlight: Ohio

AAUW Members Meet with Sen. Portman’s Columbus Office
Like many of us, AAUW of Ohio members were downright furious that some U.S. senators – including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) – voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act on April 9. And like AAUW members often do, they sprang into action: With the help of their AAUW organizer, they set up a meeting with Sen. Portman’s central district director in Columbus to discuss the issue. With Graduating to a Pay Gap in one hand and The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap in the other, they rebutted each of the district director’s unfounded arguments, such as the myth that current law is strong enough to stop gender pay discrimination (hint: it’s not – just ask any of the women who bravely shared their stories with AAUW). Keep up the good work!

  • Did you attend an in-district meeting recently? Make sure to tell us about it via AAUW’s report-back form, and you might find your story spotlighted here!

AAUW Cheer of the Week

The high school graduation rate has reached an all-time high, with 81 percent of seniors graduating on time in 2012. America’s Promise Alliance, an education group, speculates that the graduation rate is on track to reach 90 percent by 2020, although there are still significant disparities between different demographic groups that are cause for both concern and action.

AAUW Jeer of the Week

According to a report released this week, sectors with low-wage jobs saw the largest gains in employment between 2010 and 2014. As more people accept lower-wage work, the minimum wage becomes an increasingly important issue.

  • Another jeer: The minimum wage has been at its current level of $7.25 an hour since 2009, and the Senate’s attempt to increase it was blocked this week. Check out “The One Thing You Must Do” to take action today!

Bits and Pieces

  • On Tuesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children will be eligible for in-state tuition. He directed state universities in Virginia to implement the tuition eligibility decision immediately, allowing current high school seniors the opportunity to attend college under this program in the fall.
  • Also on Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Michelle Friedland for Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Friedland’s confirmation is particularly noteworthy because it is the first time the Ninth Circuit, the country’s largest appellate court, will have its full allocation of 29 judges.
  • Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services reported that over 8 million Americans have enrolled in health care through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. Additionally, almost 5 million people have enrolled in Medicaid since October 2013. This brings the total of first wave of signups to around 13 million. The next insurance open enrollment period begins November 15 for coverage beginning January 1, 2015.
  • On Monday the Indiana Board of Education voted to adopt an alternative set of education standards to replace Common Core, which the state dropped a few weeks ago. While Governor Mike Pence and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction applauded the vote, other local education groups argued that the replacement is too similar to Common Core. AAUW supports the Common Core standards.
  • Recent surveys conducted in different countries suggest that parents pay girls and boys unequally for household chores – and one study found that this allowance pay gap persists even though girls spend an average of two more hours on chores than boys. The studies recommended that parents consider the implications of valuing chores differently to avoid giving the impression of inequity.

Read past issues of Washington Update