The government’s new stance on how Title IX should work with sexual assault cases is vague at best, harmful at its worst.
People always have the impression that sexual assault won’t happen to them. It only happens to other people. I certainly had that perception for quite a long time. It took a while for me to wake up, to realize that it could very well happen to me, or a friend, or a sibling or a fellow student.
The standards of how to deal with campus sexual assault are in the document Title IX. UE is no exception. It has a page on its website dedicated to the law and how the school handles reports of sexual assault.
There is a helpful website called knowyourix.org that allows students to explore their rights and also discusses the changes proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. There is also a way to petition these changes.
Changes to Title IX have been discussed ever since DeVos was named secretary in February, but it has only been in the past few months that she has implemented those changes. Basically, the guidelines that were started during the Obama administration were overturned.
These Obama-era guidelines, including the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the 2014 Q&A document, required colleges to provide due process to the accused. It was recommended that schools provide an appeal process, and both the accused and the accuser were also allowed to present witnesses and evidence if they desired. Additionally, these stipulations came with the threat that if universities did not follow the guidelines, they might lose their federal funding.
DeVos has claimed that these guidelines set up by the Obama administration created a “failed system.” Her new guidelines are spurred by that failed system, and give schools much more choice in how they handle sexual assault cases. While under the Obama administration guidelines, universities were required to follow the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof, colleges now have the choice between that and a “clear and convincing” standard, which means schools can now require more tangible evidence, such as DNA. This means that universities can now require more scientific evidence before the accused can be convicted.
We are given a HARD choice.
Who should receive more protection: Victims or the falsely accused?
This is troubling for many survivors of sexual assault, but fortunately DeVos’ changes are just temporary. Schools are not required to change their policies to reflect her guidelines.
About 20 percent of female students report sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Males are even less likely to report. Victims are not more likely to report with this new guideline because it makes it more difficult for the perpetrator to be proven guilty.
DeVos gave a speech in September at George Mason University. After reading the speech online, I was left with the impression that she was more concerned with male students being falsely accused than victims of sexual assault getting justice for what happened to them.
She said in her speech that though the Obama-era guidelines helped victims, they did not cater to those who were falsely accused. It is not to say that false accusations don’t happen, but only 2–8 percent of cases are a result of false accusations. The government is sending the wrong message when it puts the falsely accused above the victims of sexual assault.
Due process and the emergence of DNA testing have made it much harder for anyone to be falsely accused of sexual assault. But it is not an eradicated problem. Society is given a hard choice. Who should receive more protection: Victims or the falsely accused? DeVos’ position seems too wishy-washy. You can’t get a clear answer as to what she really thinks is the solution.
The new guidelines put in place by the Trump administration seem to say to universities, “Do whatever you think is best. I’m washing my hands of it.” That does not make me feel safe. Although I am lucky enough to attend a school that doesn’t intend to change its policy, I cannot help but imagine colleges all across this nation breathing a sigh of relief that their sexual assault policies will not be scrutinized to the degree it was under the Obama administration.
That pisses me off. The procedure of what colleges should do during such cases should be as transparent as a spotlessly clean window, letting both victims and perpetrators know what is inappropriate and what actions the university would take in the case of a sexual assault accusation. It should be as simple as that.