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Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. John Fetterman and U.S. Rep Madeleine Dean on Wednesday introduced legislation that would defer student loan payments for survivors of sexual violence who withdraw from school to seek treatment.
“After going through horrific trauma like harassment, stalking, or assault, survivors deserve the time to heal — and if they’re in school and need to step away from their education to do that, they must be able to do so without the worry or financial burden of student loan repayments beginning,” Dean, a former professor, said in a statement announcing the bill. “This deferment will help survivors focus on what’s most important: their mental and physical well-being.”
The legislation would allow survivors of sexual violence to pause their student loan payments from six months to as long as three years while they receive treatment and focus on their wellbeing. Fetterman cited his own treatment for depression earlier this year, when he spent six months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“Getting help allowed me to be the father and husband I want to be, and the Senator that Pennsylvania deserves,” he said in a statement. “I strongly encourage anyone who is struggling or in crisis to get help and extending that opportunity to our students is absolutely the right thing to do. This bill will make it possible for students to focus on their mental health without the burden of student loan payments.”
The bill would broaden the definition of “sexual violence” to include “sex-based harassment,” and widen reporting requirements, to allow students to report to their health care provider or a Title IX official, since there is no reporting standard currently.
The federal Title IX civil rights law, best known for prohibiting educational institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex, also protects against sexual misconduct, which includes sexual assault and stalking.
“Sex-based harassment is a pervasive issue in colleges and universities that has long-lasting impacts on student survivors,” said Shiwali Patel, director of Justice for Student Survivors and senior counsel at The National Women’s Law Center. She said survivors often need a leave of absence, and that the trauma from sex-based harassment can interfere with a student’s capacity to learn and engage in school activities.
“However, student survivors are still expected to make student loan payments during their time away from school despite the trauma they have faced,” Patel said. “It is time we realized that managing student loan repayments is the one of the last things survivors should have to be worried about.”
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