DeVos Can't Agree To Protect Sexual Assault Victims Until Meeting With 'Men's Rights' Groups

by Jessica Smock
Win McNamee / iStock

Is there an epidemic of women crying “rape” on campus after they regret having sex?

Is domestic violence overreported?

Are there throngs of women accusing rich men or former boyfriends of sexual assault to get money, revenge, or attention?

Are most of the women who claim that they were raped — and only call the police or campus authorities much later (days, weeks, months after the alleged assault) — lying about it?

When there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute an accused rapist, does that automatically mean that the alleged victim is a liar?

Well, Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, will be meeting with “men’s rights” groups who would answer all of those questions with a resounding yes. In this meeting, she’ll also hear from individual men who claim that they were falsely accused of rape, so she can learn about their experiences.

Why on earth is she looking for advice from these groups?

DeVos is deciding on whether to keep Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, written in 2011. That guidance, advocated strongly for by Vice President Joe Biden, has had a profound effect on campus life and encouraged campuses to be much more proactive about sexual assault prevention. It included provisions to make it easier for survivors to come forward and protections for sexual assault victims. The guidance also said that sexual violence should be treated legally as sexual harassment, prohibited by Title IX.

The Education Secretary’s choice is simple: Keep the policies or go back to when victims were compelled by universities to sign nondisclosure agreements and universities were allowed to take no action on allegations for years, in some cases.

Anti-sexual-violence groups have long feared that DeVos would be hostile to their cause. During her nomination hearings, she refused to say whether she supported Obama’s new campus sexual assault protections and said that she was also interested in hearing from “those who are accused” before she would support that guidance. Because she needs to hear from accused rapists, before she offers support for general protections for everyone else.

Her family foundation also gave money to an advocacy group working to abolish these sexual assault protections. DeVos’s own acting head of the Office of Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, described the women who accused Trump of sexual assault as “fake victims.”

What do we know about these “men’s rights” groups that DeVos will be sharing a table with?

Stop Abusive Environments and Violent Environments (SAVE), one of the groups, is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group “promoting misogyny.” It supports scaling back punishments for domestic violence perpetrators as well as stating that “true victims of abuse” are the falsely accused. SAVE also claims that “intrusive questions” about a victim’s prior sexual history should be allowed in court.

One expert on rape and sexual assault told the Daily Beast that SAVE will “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them and others into shutting up and taking it. They blame women for ‘instigating’ men’s violence against them.”

The National Coalition for Men, another group, also intimidates sexual assault survivors. It has published the photos and names of survivors, labeling them on its website “false accusers.” Its president calls domestic violence and sexual assault legislation part of the “men’s violence industry.” He argues that domestic violence is overreported and that — in the cases where it does exist — “often the woman initiates violence herself.” (This president also said that Ray Rice’s girlfriend — who was punched in the face in an elevator — shares the blame for Rice’s violence, insisting that “if she hadn’t aggravated him, she wouldn’t have been hit.”)

And if that isn’t infuriating and disgusting enough…

Another group to meet with DeVos, Families Advocating for Campus Equality, holds similar views about sexual assault and domestic violence legislation.

It does bring me some hope to know that DeVos has also met with sexual assault survivors as well as survivor advocacy organizations because I’m sure they’ve told her the following facts about sexual assault and domestic violence:

– False accusations of sexual assault are very, very rare, occurring in studies in as little as 2% of cases. This is the same percentage of false accusations as in other felonies.

– Among those rare false accusations, only a tiny percentage end up with the accused’s name being identified. Even fewer have led to prosecutions.

Only about 40% of sexual crimes are ever reported.

As the mom of both a son and a daughter, I hope those are the statistics that DeVos keeps in mind after she listens to these “men’s rights” and “accused’s rights” activists and as she decides on whether to continue to protect sexual assault survivors.