DeVos Rolls Back Protections For Campus Rape Victims, And This Is Why You Should Care

by Joelle Wisler
Claudia Soraya / Unsplash

In college, I volunteered briefly at a rape crisis center before realizing that I didn’t have the right emotional temperament to be helpful to someone who had just been sexually assaulted. I just couldn’t be that calm voice of information and assistance if I was enraged or crying or both, and those were my instincts.

Before starting to volunteer, we had an intense six weeks of training where we learned all of the horrifying statistics, such as 1 in 6 women in the U.S. are going to be the victim of attempted or completed rape, every 98 seconds someone in the U.S. is raped, 7 out 10 times the perpetrator is known by the victim, and maybe the most disturbing one of all, only 6 out of 1,000 sexual predators will end up in prison. Only 6 of those motherfuckers.

And these are just the statistics of the people who have come forward. Many do not.

After our training, we then went on calls with more experienced volunteers, meeting rape victims at the hospital to be their advocate in going through the process. This is where I learned that I was definitely in the wrong place. The process is so complicated and scary. It occurs so frequently, and it is so difficult to have someone convicted that many college campuses have advocates and programs like this to support people when they’ve been raped. And still, only 6 out of 1,000 perpetrators go to jail.

It’s bullshit.

The New York Times recently ran a letter from a rape survivor in response to an op-ed column that suggested Betsy DeVos’s speech about her goals to rewrite the Obama-era approach to campus rape was a step in the right direction. Spoiler alert: It’s not.

The Obama-era approach has been criticized for denying due process to the alleged perpetrators because the trials are held on campus and not subject to things like the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. And while there seems to be some consensus that changes need to be made to the Title IX guidelines, Betsy DeVos’s decision has (once again) enraged many victims and their advocates because her ideas are going to take us back to the days of just pretending that rape isn’t a thing that happens.

Just this past week, DeVos and the department of education formally rescinded the Obama-era guidelines, making it more difficult for campus rape survivors to get the justice and support that they need. This is not okay. Why are we going backwards? Why?

“Betsy DeVos and Candice Jackson’s intentions are clear: to protect those who ‘grab’ by the genitals and brag about it — and make college campuses a safer place for them,” Sofie Karasek, director of education and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said in response to the news. Candice Jackson is the head of the civil rights division of the education department. (Yes, you read that right. Let that sink in.)

Are we even considering the victims here? Their POV matters. It is, perhaps, the most important of all.

This rape survivor’s letter is, in its honest, raw form, such a great example of why the process is so complex and where we, as a society, often fall short in protecting victims. And our justice system fails us in holding predators accountable for their actions.

You can read the letter here in its entirely, and I would encourage you to do so.

She talks openly about her experience being raped in college by someone she knew:

“In college, I once blacked out drunk at a party and someone offered to walk me home. I don’t remember what happened after that, but when I woke up my clothes were on inside out. I started screaming. I didn’t know what had happened, but I did know that some part of me had died forever, and that I had been violated.”

A part of her “died forever,” but there is only a 6 in 1,000 chance that the man who did this to her would ever be held accountable for his actions. Education and support are key. The victim, like so many others, states that she didn’t even know at that time that an incapacitated person cannot consent.

She also says:

“It seems to me that conservatives and mainstream liberals have abdicated concern about sexual assault to the far left. It’s an astounding moral blind spot, and frankly it breaks my heart.”

Our politicians need to take rape seriously. I can’t even believe we have to say this. With DeVos rolling back the Obama-era policies that aimed to protect victims, they will now have to fight harder for any kind of justice. Rapists are criminals who take things that are not theirs to take. They should be punished for their actions.

In another powerful excerpt, she goes on to detail how she was a “bad victim” because she had been drinking. And how “so many of the conservative men in my life won’t listen to me on this argument until I tell them my story. So here I am.”

Powerful. If this doesn’t make us all want to do better, I don’t know what will.

Things need to change, but we need to speak out against DeVos’s path. There’s no such thing as a “bad victim.” There are simply victims. And rapists. And our legislators need to care about sexual assault survivors as much as they care about protecting the accused, or we will continue to have victims suffering in silence and rapists roaming free.