“One out of every four female undergraduates will be victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation.”
This horrifying statistic, reported by the United States Department of Justice, is a nightmarish reality for collegiate women across the country. Sexual assault, perhaps one of the nation’s most downplayed issues, is occurring all around us, and with United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s new sexual assault proposal, it’s about to get a whole lot scarier.
So what exactly are Betsy DeVos’s intended new rules?
The 149 pages of rules is a bit steep of a reading, but DeVos’s proposed rules can be summed in a few major points – and it’s not pretty.
1. Only the most severe forms of assault and harassment will be investigated by the school, meaning many forms of harassment will go unnoticed and ignored.
In DeVos’s proposal, sexual harassment would be defined as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” This sets the standards for something to be considered “sexual harassment” unreasonably high and will certainly dissuade victims from reporting sexual misconduct in fear that it will not fit DeVos’s criteria.
2. Universities and schools can ignore sexual assault that occurs outside of school programs, such as misconduct that occurs in off-campus housing.
According to 2012 statistic from collegestats.org, 11.9% of sexual offenses occurred off-campus. With DeVos’s proposed plan, this 11.9% would be ignored, neglected and silenced by the school — which is absolutely terrifying.
3. Schools will only be held accountable when there is proof that administration knew about the sexual misconduct, yet failed to take action.
This causes many issues, for administration could easily lie about their involvement to resist the consequences.
4. A “clear and convincing” standard can be demanded from the victim for proof of sexual assault.
If this standard of proof is not met, the school will not be required to do anything. Not only does this belittle the victim’s voice, it automatically values the side of the accused more.
5. Victims would no longer be able to request that their harasser be moved out of their class, residence hall, etc.
During the Obama administration, victims were allowed to demand that their perpetrator be moved, ensuring that victims did not have to endure a shared space with their harasser. Sharing an area with the accused would be triggering and extremely upsetting for the victim, and would likely distract them from class or other activities.
6. Before a decision is made on the involvement of the accused, he or she can choose to do an informal resolution process, such as mediation.
A process like mediation would not require a full investigation and would prevent the accused from facing any consequences for the pain they have caused others.
7. Schools would be required to perform live cross-examinations, where the victim would be interrogated by representatives of the accused in real time.
In the past, representatives would write questions to the victim, instead of interrogating them in person, which will prove to be far more damaging to the already-uncomfortable victim.
8. DeVos’s proposal will also make it confusing for students to determine whether or not their school has claimed religious freedom to Title XI.
9. Lastly, schools and universities can actually postpone sexual assault investigations for “concurrent law enforcement activity.”
This is quite literally belittling and downplaying the severity of sexual harassment claims.
These rules should make you angry. This new proposal minimizes the victim’s voice, values the word of the accused and purely degrades and discredits the rights of innocent collegiates, leading victims to begin blaming themselves.
And you’re certainly not alone in this anger. As of Jan. 30, the end of the “notice-and-comment” period, nearly 103,000 passionate messages were submitted to the Department of Education, according to NBCNews.com. Unsurprisingly, the majority of comments seem to be opposing the unfair and unreasonable adjustments being made to Title IX.
Yes, on average, one in every four undergraduate females will face sexual assault during college. Even scarier: over 90% of victims do not report the assault (nsvrc.org). With DeVos’s new proposal, even more victims of sexual misconduct will unfairly blame themselves and will suffer quietly as a result.
As college women, we cannot be OK with this. It’s time to learn more, take action and fight back against Betsy DeVos’s proposed rules for sexual assault on campus.
Because if one thing is for damn sure, Ms. DeVos and the rest of the Trump Administration are going to continue endorsing this victim-shaming mindset, but we do not have to accept it