Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has significantly endangered the lives of college students across the country.
On Wednesday, DeVos issued final rules for how public and private institutions must address sexual misconduct allegations. The new rules include a more narrow definition of sexual harassment, it requires colleges to hold live hearings where both parties can be cross-examined, and it restricts the number of sexual misconduct complaints that schools are forced to investigate.
Schools will now only be responsible for investigating incidents that may have happened within their programs and activities. Also, sexual misconduct complaints that are not filed through a formal process nor brought to the attention of certain officials will not be the school’s responsibility.
“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in a statement.
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That sounds good, but DeVos’ rules directly oppose the Obama administration’s efforts to stop sexual misconduct. In 2011, a “Dear Colleague” letter, as well as a supplementary document in 2014, defined sexual harassment broadly and made schools responsible for incidents that they knew about or even “reasonably should” have known about. These measures asked schools to put into place a “preponderance of evidence” standard in adjudicating cases and discouraged cross-examination and mediation between victims and accused students.
In layman’s terms, DeVos’ policy amounts to a governmental silencing of victims’ voices across the country.
The news comes only a few days after it was reported that the NCAA finally changed its policy on sexual misconduct. Under that new policy, athletes must now annually disclose acts of violence that result in an investigation, discipline through a Title IX proceeding, or a criminal conviction.
In addition to forcing the athletes to be more forthcoming about their past, institutions must now put into place written policies that make staffs gather possible criminal information on new recruits and transfer athletes.
It was a much-needed step from an organization that could still do more, especially after a report from USA Today showed that Division I athletes were disciplined for sexual misconduct at more than three times the rate of the general student population.
On the other hand, DeVos’ plan is a setback.
In a country where 13.3 percent of college women say that they have been forced to have sex in a dating situation, and where only 28 percent of victims report their sexual assaults to law enforcement, instilling any rule that will hinder these survivors from seeking justice is not only irresponsible — it is life-threatening.
According to the Department of Justice, 25% of women and 16% of men are sexually abused in their lifetime. These numbers are inordinately high compared to only 2% of falsely reported cases.
The numbers themselves tell the story, we have a problem. And it will only be compounded by Devos’ new guidelines. Even if a survivor is still brave enough to go through this new process.
The live hearing and cross-examination will force victims to relive traumatic experiences that have been known to cause significant psychological effects such as depression and PTSD.
“Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are dead set on making schools more dangerous for everyone — even during a global pandemic,” Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center told the New York Times. “And if this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault.”
Goss Graves and the National Women’s Law Center vowed to fight DeVos’ rules in court.
Under no circumstances should a survivor be forced to be subjected to these detrimental effects in a manner this reckless.
These new rules are counterproductive and likely won’t help schools catch individuals responsible for sexual violence. Even if you bring these cases to trial, oftentimes it still comes down to he said, she said.
At least with the crackdown on school sexual misconduct policies from the Obama administration and the prominence of the #MeToo movement, the underlying criminals on these campuses were held socially accountable.
If anything DeVos’ guidelines will embolden more perpetrators to engage in violent sex acts because the likelihood of being caught has diminished.
DeVos’ new regulations do absolutely nothing to stop sexual misconduct and only continue to absolve individuals who commit these heinous acts.
DeVos has endangered millions of young Americans by continuing to drop the ball on this issue.