Rewire: By Muddying On-Campus Sexual Assault Policies, DeVos Is Making Students—and Schools—Less Safe
Betsy DeVos is asking Trump to remove Department of Education rules that protect victims of rape on campus. DeVos claims that women are falsely accusing their rapists, but this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. DeVos wants to make it even harder for rape survivors to come forward. About 25% of women are raped during their college career, and 2/3rds of rape cases go unreported. Only 2% of rape claims are proven false. Under President Obama, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act was signed into law, giving victims of sexual assault on campus new protections. Unfortunately, given Devos’ comments, and Trump’s own history of sexual assault, these critical gains are in jeopardy now.
However, according to DeVos, those guidelines were too unfair to students accused of assault. “The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said in a speech September 7 at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Virginia. In that speech, she promised the Department of Education (DOE) would replace the “current failed system” with a “workable, effective, and fair system” that does more for both sexual assault victims and the accused.
However, those who worked on the policy under President Barack Obama were disturbed by DeVos’ remarks’ implications. “The secretary’s speech was incredibly damaging, and it returns us to the bad old days when we behaved as if we didn’t know what to do as a country about sexual violence in school,” said Catherine Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), in an interview with Rewire. The USCCR is an independent agency charged with monitoring federal civil rights enforcement. Before working with the USCCR, Llamon was the assistant secretary for civil rights at the DOE and worked closely on the department’s guidance on sexual assault.
“We had made so much progress in the past few years and the secretary’s remarks set that progress back,” Lhamon continued.
DeVos’ announcement reflected previous rhetoric from the agency: Candice E. Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the DOE, said in July that claims of campus sex assault are usually just a result of “regret” by the victim.
Llamon said that overall, such a shift deviates from the policy and comments of even previous conservative administrations.
“As early as the Reagan administration, the Office for Civil Rights issued guidance that discussed the ways in which the Office for Civil Rights would enforce Title IX to protect students from sexual violence in schools,” Llamon said. “So the notion now as expressed in the secretary’s speech that we need to essentially subject that question [of how to handle sexual assault] to popular vote sets us back in truly damaging ways and sows confusion where none had existed among the school community, now making sure no one knows that Title IX will be enforced.”