The DeVos Definition of Assault

Betsy DeVos is the current United States secretary of education. DeVos was appointed by President Trump in 2017. DeVos, a Michigan native, has a history of controversy; while serving as chair of the board of the Alliance for School Choice (an organization that advocates the expansion of the school voucher and corporate tax credit) and the All Children Matter movement, she received widespread criticism regarding alleged state election rigging.

Recently, DeVos has proposed a change in how schools must respond to complaints and reports of sexual assault and abuse. This proposal would limit the number of cases that schools would be mandated to investigate, in order to “protect the victims accused.” The proposal that DeVos advocates would not only allow less scrutiny for the accused but give them more rights and protection. Based on her proposal, less reports would be investigated, and those that would be must be reported properly and can only be considered legitimate if the alleged assault occurred during a campus program or event.

This proposal is a tragic response to the years of work done by women’s rights groups and the #MeToo movement. DeVos’s regulation would limit the instances in which the school would have to respond. In terms of higher educational systems, colleges and universities, the school is required to have “actual knowledge” and the case must be reported to “an official with authority to take corrective action.” Because the assault in question must be on or related to an on-campus location or activity in order to be considered worth reporting, the only off-campus activities that would “count” would have to be a school program or take place within a school-owned building.

Suzanne Taylor, the University of California’s Title IX coordinator, was quoted stating that the new regulations will “reverse decades of well-established, hard-won progress toward equity” and that the University of California school system would continue to stay “steadfast in its commitment to combatting sexual violence.”

So, what do all 149 proposed pages mean to you? Well, here’s a breakdown:

1. Schools will no longer be held responsible for incidents that occur outside of school-based organizations and events.

If someone experiences an instance of sexual assault on the way to campus, on the way home from campus, or at a party, it’s no longer considered the school’s responsibility to pursue an investigation. Quite simply, it will be the protected right of the school to do absolutely nothing. This is especially important when considering the large percentage of students who live off campus and particularly community college students, who do not live on campus at all.

2. The definition of sexual assault will be changed.

Previously, under the Obama administration, the definition of sexual assault was stated as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” This definition is intentionally broad, in order to protect victims and validate their reports. Under the new proposal, DeVos plans on changing the definition of sexual assault to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to [an education program or activity].” This is incredibly problematic as if harassment and assault are occurring to such an extent that it’s interrupting one’s education then it has gone way too far.

3. A Live Cross-Examination Will Now Be Required.

If DeVos can gather enough support for her proposal, schools would be forced to require in-person hearings with both students and their representatives present. As of currently, schools have had the freedom to address investigations in any manner found fit; students could submit written testimonies, etc. Now, with the potential approval of DeVos’s proposal, students must aggressively advocate for themselves in person, which greatly increases the chances of re-traumatization, PTSD, and dropped reports. This cross-examination could be anyone ─ the accused's family, for example, questioning the victim in person. This is insensitive and inhumane.