What You Need To Know About Betsy DeVos's Title IX Amendments

On Thursday, September 7th, Betsy DeVos announced that the Trump administration would be rewriting the campus sexual assault legislation, which was put in place by the Obama administration. Speaking to a group of students at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, DeVos condemned the current procedures, saying that they had “failed too many students.”

Title IX of the Educational Amendment Act of 1972 is a federal law establishing that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." The Obama administration, in 2011, broadened the rules that governed Title IX. Across the nation, colleges that receive federal funding were sent a “Dear Colleague letter” outlining suggestions and guidelines that college administrators needed to follow in handling sexual misconduct. This included provisions mandating that both the accuser and accused should have equal access to legal counsel.

More notably, the letter included a standard called the “preponderance of evidence,” essentially indicating that if more than 50% of the evidence in a sexual misconduct case pointed towards the guilt of the accused, the accused students would be “held responsible.” The “preponderance of evidence” was intended to replace the “clear and convincing” evidence policy previously in place. Critics of the “preponderance of evidence” policy maintain that it is unfair to hold students to a lower burden of proof than they are held to in a criminal case. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that jurors must believe the defendant is guilty beyond any misgivings they have, unless the misgivings are founded in reason. Supporters counter that it’s an unfair comparison, as colleges don’t have the same investigative resources as law enforcement does.

DeVos was harshly critical of the Obama administration’s Title IX policies, citing the suspension of Matt Boermeester, former University of Southern California football player, and Kenneth W. Starr, former president of Baylor University. She labeled the Title IX hearings as “kangaroo courts,” implying that Title IX hearings were not impartial. She also denounced the way the “failed system” forced schools to act as “both judge and jury.”

This decision to rework the legislation comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following DeVos. In late July 2017, DeVos publicly declared that the Department of Education was considering amending and rewriting the policy of the previous administration. She stated that, while the Obama administration had “good intentions,” their statutes violated the rights of the accused students, denying them due process. Though she did not outline her plans to amend the legislation, DeVos did say she would be seeking public feedback on this issue.

While DeVos has not gone into details about her intentions in amending the legislation, the announcement has received lots of backlash from many organizations and leaders. Joe Biden has publicly condemned DeVos’s decision, insisting that our society cannot “go backwards”. The National Women’s Law Center also issued a statement, calling the proposal a “blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault”. The group said that the new policy will “discourage schools from taking steps to comply with the law,” as well as send a message to victims that the “government does not have your back if your rights are violated.”

A 2015 study by the Association of American Universities, often cited by supporters of Title IX, reported that 1 in 4 women have complained of sexual misconduct on a college campus. A different study done by the US Department of Justice estimated that 1 in 5 women was a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault on campus. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, the rate of false reporting in sexual assault cases is 2.8%, while 63% of sexual assaults are never reported.  College campuses are required to balance the rights and needs of all students, but these statistics imply that there is a bigger issue we must address first: that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported. There are a variety of reasons why a victim would not report an instance of sexual misconduct, some of which may be fear, embarrassment, or shame. Victims may not want to repeatedly relive their experiences, or could be afraid that people won’t believe them. Though DeVos is right in emphasizing the importance of a fair trial, it is also essential that victims get the justice they deserve.

If you or someone you love has experienced sexual misconduct, you are not alone. Call 1-800-656-4673 for support.