On Thursday, Sept. 7, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. that the Department of Education is undergoing the process of rescinding the Title IX “Dear Colleague Letter” guidance presented by the Obama administration and editing the Department’s procedures for colleges investigating sexual assault cases in order to ensure equal consideration of the accused.
Rescinding the precedents that the Department of Education had utilized to enforce active institution cooperation and investigation, DeVos said that the guidance procedures had “failed too many students,” referencing the accused student population in sexual assault cases.
Other than the mention of a “notice and comment process,” DeVos did not say further detail about the specifics of the revising process.
Through her statement, DeVos agreed with the idea that in cases of sexual assault, the accused equate to the victims in that one side should not be given priority over the other. This takes the assumption that all sexual assault reports should be treated ambivalently; victims should not be given legitimacy in their reports until the case is fully proved. DeVos said that the changes come as part of an effort to protect the due process rights of the accused.
As reported by The New York Times, DeVos said, “One rape is one too many . . . one person denied due process is one too many,” juxtaposing her sentences to demonstrate the intended equal relation between the two parties of sexual assault cases.
DeVos further minimized the significance and urgency of sexual assault cases by repeatedly using the term “sexual misconduct”—as if sexual assault and rape were campus procedures that may have been violated as opposed to violent crimes that a student may have committed against another student.
Obama’s Title IX guidance, the “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL), was not enacted law; however, it set precedent and standards for the procedures that the U.S. Department of Education would take toward enforcing sexual assault investigations for all collegiate institutions.
In the letter, the previous presidential administration explained that priority consideration would be given to the victims in sexual assault cases by enabling victims to appeal not-guilty verdicts. In addition, victims’ cases would be investigated without the requirement of immediate indisputable evidence, as explained in the following clause of the DCL: “. . . a school that knows, or reasonably should know, about possible harassment must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation.”
Cited in the Department of Education’s site-published DCL and reported by the National Institute of Justice, whose study was funded by the Department of Justice, one in five women and six percent of men are “victims of attempted or completed sexual assault during college.”
A footnote of the Department of Education’s citation also said that the study “found that the majority of campus sexual assaults occur when women are incapacitated, primarily by alcohol,” meaning that most women who are assaulted would not have had the ability to give consent—and that the majority of sexual assault reports, at least those reported by female victims, have a justified foundation.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center affirms that, moreover, more than 90% of “sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault,” and many critics of DeVos’s plans said that the Title IX changes will only serve to protect the assaulters and discourage reporting by the victims of legitimate assault cases.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673).
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), who are the creators and operators of the National Sexual Assault Hotline, will also donate 93 cents of each dollar donated to their organization “to helping survivors and preventing sexual violence.” You can donate here.