Betsy DeVos' New Campus Sexual Misconduct Rules Protect The Accused

by Thea Glassman
Originally Published: 
Image via Win McNamee/Getty

Betsy DeVos is unveiling new campus sexual misconduct rules which protect the accused and schools

When Barack Obama was in office, he implemented important sexual misconduct guidelines on campuses that advocated for victims and pushed schools to hold accusers accountable. Now, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is working hard to undo all of those important steps.

DeVos’s proposed rules, which were viewed by The New York Times, will only ask schools to investigate sexual misconduct complaints if they took place on-campus and were filed through the proper authorities. The rules will also “narrow the definition of sexual harassment,” which is exactly the opposite of what we need during this crucial era of #MeToo.

With these new rules, sexual harassment would be defined as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” So, basically, that’s paving plenty of room for sexual harassers to get off the hook by saying they were kidding, they didn’t mean it, it really wasn’t that serious of an offense. Or, you know, to borrow a phrase from our president: “locker room talk.”

For reference, Obama’s rule defined sexual harassment much more broadly and put it under the category of “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

Schools will no longer be responsible for investigating sexual misconduct that took place off-campus (even though serious offenses are highly likely to happen at parties in the surrounding area). If the incident did happen on-campus, then victims must file a report with “an official who has the authority to institute corrective measures,” and not someone like a residential advisor, who the student might feel much more comfortable speaking with.

Schools get to declare if there is a “preponderance of evidence” or “clear and convincing” evidence that one of their students was abused. They also get to decide if there is an appeals process.

DeVos claims that she’s trying to help victims. When she revoked Obama’s 2011 letter, which held federally funded schools responsible for sexual misconduct, she said she was doing so as an advocate.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos explained. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

Others disagreed that DeVos has victims in mind at all.

It’s a sad, sad, awful day when our government is actively working to protect accusers and further isolate victims. Twitter user @jelliebeanellie perhaps put it the most eloquently when she wrote: “Honestly this is so fucking stupid. This is pushing those actually assaulted away from getting actual justice and help. I cant believe that this is the world I live in.”

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