Betsy DeVos Wants To Increase Protections For Students Accused Of Sexual Assault

by Thea Glassman
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Betsy DeVos wants to enhance legal protections for students accused of sexual assault

We’re currently living in a landmark time, where survivors are stepping forward and sharing their painful, incredibly traumatic experiences with sexual assault. Despite a recent disappointing response from the Senate, people are continuing to bravely step up and tell their stories to the world. Of course, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has decided to seize this moment and focus her energy on protecting alleged sexual assault perpetrators.

Because they’re the ones who we should really be concerned about right now (fully dripping with sarcasm here).

Under DeVos’s proposed new rules, college students accused of sexual assault will be given enhanced legal protection. Survivors will no longer be able to offer a “preponderance of the evidence,” as was required in the Obama administration, but rather “clear and convincing evidence.” This new rule completely disregards the fact that, in most sexual assault cases, there are no witnesses and often not a whole lot of concrete evidence to share.

The rules would also allow students to cross-examine each other through a third party, something that was frowned on by the Obama administration.

DeVos is loosening the school’s responsibility in the situation, by retracting a firm timeline for investigations and instead asking for “reasonably prompt” action. She’s also hoping to narrow the scope of the type of sexual misconduct that universities need to take action on. It needs to be “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it actually prevents a student from continuing to pursue their education. Basically, that leaves a lot of room for the old “boys will be boys” excuse.

The rules won’t go into effect until after a public comment period. Then, they will be put into law without the approval of Congress.

“Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” DeVos said in a statement. “We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.”

Here’s a few responses from the public so far:

Activist groups also beg to differ. They are accusing DeVos of hurting and silencing survivors with these new rules.

“The proposed rule changes to Title IX put forward today for public comment by the Department of Education once again demonstrate that Secretary DeVos and her team lack basic empathy for survivors and do not care about campus safety,” It’s On Us executive director Tracey Vitchers said.

Jess Davidson, Interim Executive Director of End Rape On Campus, noted that the proposed rules will return campuses to a time when sexual assault accusations were “swept under the rug”

“It demonstrates Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration share the same attitude about assault that we saw from Senate Republicans during the Kavanaugh hearing — disparage and diminish survivors and discourage them from reporting,” she said.