Groesbeck: DeVos Rescinds Obama-era Guidelines For Handling Campus Sexual Assault


By Ren Groesbeck

On Sept. 7, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her decision to reverse Obama-era guidelines for handling sexual assault on campus. These guidelines were created to protect individuals — primarily women — in sexual assault situations, but the current Education Department believes the guidelines “lacked basic elements of fairness.”

She began by acknowledging that it was the 45th anniversary of Title IX, the legislation passed by Congress to ensure “No person in the United states, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

DeVos said that the legislation was named for Congresswoman Patsy Mink, a victim of sexism and racism, and that Title IX has helped clarify that educational institutions must be accountable for a safe environment for everyone. However, DeVos added, the system has failed survivors and wrongly accused students and educational institutions.

The Obama-era guidelines demanded colleges use the lowest standard of proof — “preponderance of evidence” — to determine whether the accused is responsible for sexual assault. Preponderance of evidence means that a school must find a student guilty if it is more likely than not that the student committed a sexual act without consent. The verdict can lead to punishment and even expulsion for the accused.

DeVos wants to raise the standard to require require “clear and convincing evidence” to establish truth. DeVos repeatedly emphasized the rights of the students who are accused and stated that the “survivors aren’t well-served when they are re-traumatized by appeal after appeal.” Requiring more evidence on the survivor’s part is not going to re-traumatize them? Advocates for sexual assault survivors criticized DeVos’ emphasis on falsely accused students as out-of-step with reality, saying only a fraction of rape reports are found to be wrong.

Many people, mostly men, had previously complained that campus judicial processes were heavily biased in the favor of female accusers. This complaint is ridiculous and terrifying because the existing society already does not listen to, or place priority and trust in women. DeVos’ changes will magnify this problem; the new guidelines will discourage students from reporting assaults and make schools uncertain on how to follow the law, making campuses less safe.

DeVos claimed to be protecting both sides of the horror story, but she has gotten rid of an important part of government policy on campus sexual assault. She said she is giving colleges more freedom to balance the rights of the accused students with the need to dig deeper and crack down on misconduct. However, by raising the level of evidence victims must provide, the victims will be more fearful than they already are to speak out about the trauma they endured and the shame directly associated with it.

Sexual assault ought to be penalized at the same level that it affects its victims.

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