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Senate considers new laws to deal with sex assaults on college campuses

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — In September of 2017, the US Department of Education proposed changes to the way federally funded colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual misconduct. The changes would roll back rules put in place under the Obama Administration designed to make it easier for victims to come forward.

But opponents complained—and the Trump Education Department agreed—the rules were unfair to the accused.

Today Senators are hearing from advocates for victims, the accused, and school administrators as lawmakers begin writing new laws to deal with sex assaults on campus.

It’s an emotional issue on both sides of the debate.

“The Obama administration instructed schools to take the issue of sexual violence seriously,” said Fatima Goss-Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.

Reports of sexual assaults on campuses piled up during the Obama administration, prompting the U.S. Department of Education to issue new guidelines.

Goss-Graves says the Obama guidelines were designed to make it easier for victims to come forward.

But advocates for the accused, like attorney Patricia Hamill, say they tipped the scales of justice.

Hamill says, “Students who are accused are oftentimes assumed to be guilty.”

Two years ago, the Department of Education under President Trump reversed the guidelines and proposed new rules.

The changes increase the threshold needed to find accused students guilty and they allow the accused to directly confront accusers in a hearing.

Administrators like Dr. Jeff Howard from East Tennessee State University fear the new rules complicate school disciplinary hearings. Advocates say they will force victims to relive the trauma.

Dr. Howard says, “We can’t duplicate a court of law.”

“I believe making it harder for them to come forward and report their sexual violence,” says Fatima Goss-Graves.

Instead of allowing the Department of Education to write the rules, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander wants Congress to step up with a bipartisan solution that protects the rights of victims and the accused.

“What would be best is if we could agree in the Congress,” says Alexander.