Backward! Sexual Assault On College Campus

Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is set to rewrite the rules formulated in 2011 pertaining to sexual assault on college campus. This misguided action will turn back the clock by diminishing protections for victims of sexual assault.

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan states, “This administration wants to take us back to the days when colleges swept sexual assault under the rug… instead of building on important work to pursue justice, they are once again choosing politics over students, and students will pay the price.” (NY Times 9/7/17)

I agree with Arne Duncan. This effort by DeVos is merely further evidence that the Trump Administration seeks to dismantle Obama-era policies regardless of the consequences. If the current guidelines need minor revisions, that could be accomplished without sending the absolute wrong message — one that creates a false equivalency between the accused and the victim of assault. Of course, due process is paramount in all proceedings, both for the accused perpetrator of assault and the potential victim of sexual assault. Even one false accusation is one too many. However, let’s put things in perspective. The impetus for the 2011 Guidelines issued by the Department of Education came about because significant numbers of sexual assault cases were being reported on college campuses. A 2015 survey of students at 27 universities, conducted by the Association of American Universities (Westat 9/15) found that approximately 20% of females surveyed at several of the selected schools, confirmed an incident of sexual assault or misconduct.

Two of the findings that confirm what previous studies have indicated are as follows:

“A relatively small percentage (28% or less) of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency.”

“A significant percentage of students say they did not report because they were … embarrassed, ashamed… or that it would be too emotionally difficult… or did not think anything would be done about it.” (Westat 9/15)

Unquestionably, the action by DeVos to undermine the 2011 Guidelines sets up a phony false equivalency between the rights of the accused (which, although critically important, has nothing to do with the widespread occurrence of sexual assault on many college campuses) and the plight of victims. Betsy DeVos has sounded a loud (dog) whistle that life on campus can return to the good ole days, when for too many, sexual assaults were swept under the rug or dealt with ineffectively.

Sexual assault victims on college campuses will not be served well by this DeVos proclamation.