Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Friday she’s reversing Obama-era Title IX revisions and placing temporary rules for guidelines on handling sexual assault on campus. The biggest change to Title IX is moving from a “preponderance of evidence” to a “clear, convincing standard of proof” which essentially means raising the standard of evidence needed to find someone guilty.
The administration has also done away with the 60 day timeline for coming to a decision and added a “notice-and-comment” policy that looks to the public, the institution, the students and professionals to create a more well-rounded decision. While Title IX was in desperate need of being revised, these revisions are working towards granting more protections for the accused, and that’s difficult for me to wrap my head around.
Critics of Obama-era Title IX argue there’s a prejudice preventing the accused from having fair trials. The Department of Education released a statement on their website that says the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter and the 2014 “Questions and Answers” documents ignored notice and comment and created a system that “lacked basic elements of due process.” They’ve created a new “Question and Answer” document explaining the school’s responsibility in dealing with campus sexual misconduct.
DeVos wants to rely more on professionals than the universities themselves. It will be more effective to have professionals dealing with sexual assault cases but I’m concerned that shifting reliance away from the school will create more leniency with colleges combating sexual assault. Colleges need to be on board with reporting and addressing sexual assault on their campuses and while the trials themselves could be handled better by professionals, schools still need to be held accountable.
Candice Jackson, assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, said in July that 90 percent of all campus sexual assault cases emerge from drunk sex or bad breakups. The Department of Education and Jackson later apologized for the false statement.
DeVos also sparked controversy in July when she met with men’s rights groups including the National Coalition for Men. Critics were concerned these actions would lead to Title IX revisions working against victims and for those accused.
I understand there are cases in which a student is accused of sexual misconduct when they are completely innocent, and this can destroy their reputation regardless of the verdict. It’s hard to redeem yourself after your name has been associated with any type of sexual misconduct case but there’s a thin line between giving the accused fair trials and letting them off the hook.
Christina Mancini, associate professor of criminal justice in the Douglas L. Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, says it’s much more likely an instance of sexual assault would go unreported than it is a falsified report would be filed. While false reporting should be addressed, data shows that underreporting is more of an issue that should be dealt with. RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S., says only 20 percent of female college students report sexual assault. The revisions to Title IX will grant more protection to the accused and this might discourage even more victims from coming forward.
The new legislation rids Title IX of a specific timeline a case needs to be resolved within. It was previously 60 days. Now there is no time limit. This could be useful in cases that entail large amounts of complicated evidence, but it gives more leeway to the schools to take their time reaching a decision. Both parties could be left dealing with a lengthy case spanning several months. This will take their time, money and attention for the majority of a semester or even a school year.
Case after case, we’ve seen guilty men get off with very little punishment and we’ve seen victims left helpless and shoved to the side. After Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman and was sentenced to six months in jail, serving only three, general faith in the justice system dealing with sexual assault collapsed.
The Atlantic recently wrote a three-part series that looks deeper into the specifics of sexual assault highlighting how the accused are treated in court, the role of memory in a case and the role that race plays in a court decision. If the Department of Education is concerned with the rights of those accused, the way race factors into a court decision should be examined too.
The Office for Civil Rights does not require campuses to document the race of the accused or the accuser. The sexual assault cases we see in the news are most commonly white men and since the Brock Turner case, he has become a picture of what a rapist looks like. This doesn’t undermine the number of Black college men accused of sexual assault every year that are given unfair trials because of inherent biases. The OCR investigated Colgate University for racial discrimination and found in the 2013-2014 academic year, 4.2 percent of students were black and they made up 50 percent of the cases reported and 40 percent of students adjudicated. The investigation didn’t go beyond statistics and no formal examination into each case was made.
Let’s consider the bias that works in favor of a school’s best athletes. Aside from Brock Turner being one of Stanford’s best swimmers, football players get away with sexual misconduct regularly, especially during football season. Football programs kick sexual assault allegations under the rug because they can’t afford to lose their best players while in season. They get quietly resolved and the reputation of the program is hardly tarnished. Unfair trials go beyond accusing innocent men, but I don’t see the administration directly addressing that.
Colleges are still required to have a Title IX coordinator and to report all cases of sexual assault. They’re currently given the option to either implement the new higher standard guidelines or to continue executing Title IX the way they have been. I’m assuming this is so they can test the waters with the new guidelines and allow for a smoother transition into a new era of Title IX regulations.
Granting more fair legal rights to parties involved in sexual assault cases is not a bad thing. Logically, it makes sense but I can’t imagine DeVos and the Trump administration coming up with sexual assault legislation that does anything but take advantage of the victims. Given President Trump’s language when discussing sexual assault and women in general, I have very little faith in how beneficial these new sexual assault regulations will be.