Approximately 20 percent of women and 5 to 6 percent of men in college will be victims of sexual assault. More than 50 percent of these assaults occur on campus. To bring these numbers into perspective, calculated for Rollins College, that is 654 women and 197 men from this year’s student body. In comparison, less than 10 percent of reported cases of sexual assault are false. These facts and statistics are why Title IX exists, and they are being ignored by Betsy DeVos.
Title IX is a law that outlaws discrimination based on gender or sex, and in 2011 the Obama administration released guidelines for how campus sexual assault should be handled, which comes down to removing anything or anyone that creates a “hostile environment” for the reporting party or victim. Whether the environment is hostile is decided on a case-to-case basis, such as one instance of rape or continued unwanted sexual advances. It is simple and straightforward and entirely in defense of victims of sexual assault. For the last six years, these have been the go-to principles, and these are what DeVos is rescinding, not Title IX itself.
So, really, the question comes down to why DeVos felt the need to change something that seemed to be in the best interest of the injured party, and really I think she is ignorant of the facts I have outlined. Instead of doing research and studying statistics, she buys into the rape culture narrative that women make stuff up, that they regret sex and decide it is rape to protect their reputation or to ruin the life of some poor, innocent boy with a bright future. DeVos, in essence, repealed the guidelines to protect the people accused of sexual assault. She believes it to be unfair to remove the accused from the environment of the survivor. Apparently, this process is somehow deeming them guilty before trial, rather than being a protection from prolonged suffering to someone who has been through enough.
Much like DeVos’s statement on how bears are more a risk than guns to public schools, she seems totally removed from the actual dangers. In her eyes, it is more a danger to be accused of sexual assault falsely that it is to be assaulted or to feel violated by having your assailant going to school with you. She does not understand that sexual assault is already the most underreported crime, with only 12 percent of campus sexual assaults being reported. 12 percent is such a low number, one that will only decrease if the government continues to take the side of perpetrators over victims.
One of the changes that sticks in my mind is the change to the appeals process. Under the Obama administration, either party could appeal the decision in a sexual harassment case. Under DeVos’s plan, schools have the choice between allowing no one to appeal, allowing both parties to appeal, and – the one that disturbs me – only allowing the assailant to appeal. This is disgusting. It is telling victims that they do not matter if a case does not go their way. This message is delivered again when colleges can no longer remove an alleged assailant from campus for the comfort of the victim. This might sound fair, but the overwhelming majority of the accused are guilty, and this policy is forcing survivors to go to school with their rapists, creating an environment where victims fear for their safety.
The new guidelines end with a paragraph about how much Title IX has accomplished in the 45 years since it was passed. It seems to overlook the fact that these new provisions are a step backward for the rights of sexual assault survivors everywhere.