On July 5, 2016, Gov. David Ige signed into law Act 208 to combat sexual violence on Hawaii’s college campuses. Among other critical measures, Act 208 required the University of Hawaii to train employees and students on sexual violence policies, appoint a confidential advocate at each campus, and conduct a biennial campus climate survey and disclose the results to the Legislature. With a stroke of the pen, Hawaii became a national leader in the effort to combat campus sexual violence.

Since 2016, however, a lot has changed. Most recently, on May 6, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos finalized her rollback of Obama-era guidelines to protect students impacted by sexual violence on college campuses. The new guidelines, which narrow the definition of sexual violence, limit survivors’ options for legal recourse, and require survivors to undergo courtroom-style cross-examination, have been almost universally opposed by victims rights groups.

But that isn’t who Secretary DeVos seems to have listened to. When, in 2017, more than a dozen student and survivor grassroots organizations from across the country reached out to request a meeting with Secretary DeVos to discuss the changes, the request never even received a response.

We would know — our organization, the Every Voice Coalition, was one of those groups.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has rolled back Obama-era protections for students impacted by sexual violence on college campuses. A Hawaii bill aims to ameliorate that locally. Flickr: Gage Skidmore

Instead of meeting with students and survivors, however, Secretary DeVos chose to meet with three men’s rights activists groups — including Stop Abusive and Violence Environments, which had been identified as a misogynist hate group in 2014 by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the DeVos Department of Education has chosen to rescind the Obama-era guidelines establishing critical protections for survivors.

The only question remaining now: What will Hawaii do about it?

Time To Step Up

At this moment of crisis, it is entirely possible that the new rollback will be largely overlooked — in fact, many onlookers suspect that is exactly what the department is hoping for by releasing the new guidelines in the midst of a global pandemic. But it would be a mistake to put current and future students in Hawaii at risk by allowing the Trump administration to lower the bar for campus safety. 

Fortunately, a clear alternative exists: Hawaii can step up and continue its role as a national leader in the fight against campus sexual violence by passing Senate Bill SB 2311, which will strengthen and extend 2016’s critical legislation.

It would be a mistake to put current and future students in Hawaii at risk.

SB 2311, the Every Voice bill, would provide education and training for students and staff in Hawaii on preventing and responding to sexual violence, and would ensure survivors get access to necessary health care and counseling services. Filed in January by Rep. Amy Peruso, Sen. Donna Kim, and more than 20 co-sponsors, this legislation has been endorsed by IMUAlliance, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, the American Association of University Women of Hawai’i, the Democratic Party of Hawaii Education Caucus, and the University of Hawaii system.

In March, SB 2311 passed the Hawaii State Senate unanimously with bipartisan support.

In a short session, and in the midst of a serious public health epidemic, key priority bills like SB 2311 may be in danger of getting lost in the shuffle. But when here in Hawaii more than 22% of female students at the University of Hawaii report having experienced dating or domestic violence and about 12% report that they have been sexually harassed or stalked, the status quo simply isn’t acceptable. Although the legislature isn’t in session now, if and when they do return to Honolulu, the House needs to make it a priority to take this bill up from the Senate and send it to the governor’s desk.

President Trump and Secretary DeVos seem determined to strip sexual assault victims of their civil rights. But by passing SB 2311, Hawaii has the opportunity to make it clear that we won’t let that happen.

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About the Author

  • John Gabrieli
    John Gabrieli is a co-founder and executive director of the Every Voice Coalition, an all-volunteer coalition including students, survivors, advocates, and experts working against campus sexual violence through grassroots advocacy. More than 100,000 supporters have signed on in support of Every Voice legislation. Students across the country agree: every voice should be heard.