DeVos Policies Threaten to Undermine Credibility of Sexual Assault Crimes

On Thursday, September 7, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at George Mason University about her intent to “rewrite the rules” of campus sexual assault policies. Unsurprisingly, DeVos’s views on current sexual assault policies reflect her status as little more than a puppet of the Trump administration. She asserted that the measures taken by universities to protect victims of sexual assault are too discriminatory toward accused perpetrators. According to DeVos, “the notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the victim only creates more victims.”

 

 

DeVos’s stance is problematic in a number of ways. For one, she fails to recognize how little support universities actually offer to victims of sexual assault. According to RAINN, only 20% of college women aged 18-24 who have been sexually assaulted report the crimes committed against them to law enforcement. Among the most commonly cited reasons for not reporting are the belief that the police “could not or would not do anything to help,” and a “fear of reprisal” from either the perpetrator or peers. These reasons are not unfounded; too often charges are dropped or unable to be prosecuted due to a dearth of evidence against the assailant. DeVos’s plan to loosen up sanctions for the accused would only exacerbate these circumstances.

Men who commit sexual assault without suffering any consequences are efectively cashing in on the patriarchal privilege our society has constructed for them. Their offenses are rationalized in a number of ways - “he couldn’t help himself,” “she never said no,” “boys will be boys.” All of these excuses reinforce a man’s privilege to rape and get away with it because they accept rape as circumstantially inevitable. As a result, perpetrators rarely face the consequences of their egregious actions. Implementing policies that further protect these perpetrators, as DeVos hopes to do, will subjugate victims of sexual assault to greater feelings of helplessness.

 

 

Consider the recent case of Brock Turner, a collegiate swimmer who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and only served 90 days jail time. Even under the Obama administration, when Turner committed his assault, there was work to be done toward ending victim blaming and pursuing justice for survivors. DeVos’s plans will drag the progress our country has made decades into the past, to a time when women “owing” men sexual gratification was a commonly accepted belief.

As a whole, DeVos’s stance on sexual assault policy misses the point. Rather than accepting the fact that survivors of assault suffer particular injustices at the hands of our patriarchal society and thus deserve specialized attention (especially from those in a position to rewrite legal policies), DeVos has distracted the public by trying to garner sympathy for sexual assailants and rapists, whose “problems” in this context are irrelevant. Certainly, the accused perpetrators in the ~2% of rape cases that are falsely reported suffer injustice. However, placing these individuals’ injustices on the same playing field as those of all sexual assault victims vastly subverts the severity of rape.

 

Fortunately, DeVos has not yet taken action on existing sexual assault policies. The long-term consequences of the issue will be reflected in whatever legislation the Trump administration churns out in the coming months. For now, it is important to remain cognisant of what is being considered, so that if DeVos’s backwards vision does come to fruition, we can be ready to speak up and fight back.