By Delilah Gray
Special to the Chronicle
Just when you thought the Trump administration couldn’t get any more asinine, Betsy DeVos had to swoop in and bring another wave of terror.
On Thursday, Sept. 7, DeVos announced that the Department of Education will be reviewing the Obama-era guidelines on handling sexual assault cases. She claims the system needs to be revamped due to its lack of compassion and due processes for the individuals affected under Title IX, including those accused of sexual assault. Basically, she’s on the side of the assailants.
Title IX is a federal law, passed in 1972, that prohibits sexual discrimination in any educational standing. During Obama’s presidency, schools were forced to step-up their investigations into sexual assault or lose federal funding.
Due to this decision, thousands of students felt safe enough to report cases of sexual assault to their schools. However, the sad fact is that nearly 90 percent of victims of sexual assault still don’t report, where statistically 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are victims. This means only 10 percent of their voices are heard.
If Devos’ sincerity in providing increased protections for victims is real, and not at all a thinly-veiled attempt at erasing the progress Obama’s legacy made, she needs to understand this.
Recently, DeVos appointed Candice Jackson as head of Civil Rights Investigations. This decision, like most decisions concerning the current administration, is very antonymic to the previous administration. According to The New York Times, Jackson said, “Rather, the accusations – 90 percent of them – fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”
While she did later apologize for her statement, a woman in charge of investigating civil rights blatantly disrespected millions of women that day. DeVos and her team are equally at fault for this decision.
While I understand playing the devil’s advocate, in this particular case the true underdogs are the victims of sexual assault. DeVos and her department claim to not want someone to be wrongfully accused of sexual assault as the reasoning behind the change. Some agree, proclaiming DeVos’s new announcement as vital in these investigations, by asserting equal individual attention isn’t evident while causing the accused to not receive a fair trial.
Joe Cohn, a policy director for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education quipped on NBC, “One of the reasons why we’ve been so concerned about this is because the current approach has really badly undermined due process on college campuses.” He added, “I think that here we have for the first time in my memory an education secretary who acknowledges that this is an issue that requires us to care about everyone on all sides of it.”
With a plethora of quotes from the department are flooding NBC, CNN and The New York Times, all of which favor increasing protections of the accused. DeVos has been quoted by NBC saying, “Schools have been compelled by Washington to enforce ambiguous and incredibly broad definitions of assault and harassment, adding that too many students and faculty had been investigated for ‘simply for speaking their minds or teaching their classes.’” She continues to meet with family members of those accused of sexual assault and advocates for a system that makes speaking out harder for victims, which proves which side she’s fighting for.
I find the blatant disregard to be not only offensive, but incredibly demeaning to sexual assault survivors. The best way to approach Title IX is to move forward by encouraging people to speak out about assault and improving investigational procedures. While DeVos should speak to all sides of an issue, she needs to direct her focus on the actual victims at hand.
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