United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has recently decided to alter the sexual assault policy on col- lege campuses throughout the nation. DeVos believes that institutions should have more freedom in balancing the rights of those accused while also putting an end to unacceptable behavior.
“Schools must continue to confront these horriffic crimes and behaviors head-on,” said the new Education Secretary in a press release. “There will be no more sweeping under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
This new position has been enacted considering the controversy surrounding former President Barack Obama’s stance on sexual assaults on college campuses. During the Obama era, contentious guidelines surrounding sexual assault included using “preponderance of evidence,” which is based on the more convincing evidence and probable truth of one, than numerous tentative ac- counts. The administration also prohibited mediation sessions in which the accused and the accuser would be able to discuss their differences, and required that all investigations be completed within 60 days.
Although the Obama administration said it was doing its best to crack down on matters of sexual assault on college campuses, critics believe that they were creating a system in which the accused were being treated unfairly. DeVos’s new approach to sexual assault will change the timeline of investigations from 60 days to “reasonably prompt.” Additionally, the Education Department will now allow for, and encourage mediation, hoping that it will help both sides calmly discuss their disagreements.
In light of the modi cations to the approach of sexual assault matters on college campuses, the Trump administration said that the old system lacked basic elements of fairness. Universities were recently told that they had the freedom to abandon the preponderance of evidence practice and alter the guide- lines to include “clear and convincing evidence” against the accused. However, it has yet to be determined whether all colleges will be required to raise their standards to line up with the new policy.
Many students have long desired a new approach to the continuous sexual assault matters on college campuses throughout the nation, claiming that the previous rules were biased in favor of women. In the past, rulings on sexual assault matters could come down to a “he said, she said” situation, in which it was likely that the accused would be judged as guilty, even if there was little proof. For most students, a guilty verdict results in suspension, expulsion or the loss of a scholarship, making it extremely diffcult for he or she to gain admission to another accredited school.
U.S. EDUCATION SECRATARY BETSY DEVOS,
PHOTO BY UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
However, under DeVos’s new stance, evidence of some sort will have to be present- ed before such an impactful judgment is made. Institutions throughout the nation are divided on the issue. Many colleges, legal figures, and professors believe that no student should be punished unless the school is certain that wrongful behavior occurred, thus agreeing with the new approach.
However, others believe that the new policy will not only discourage students from reporting sexual assault cases but also create uncertainty on how to handle such situations in a safe and effective manner.
Multiple undergraduate and graduate students have sued their respective institutions for violating their rights. One law student was found guilty of sexual assault only when the school he was attending at the time, University
of Virginia, switched back to the preponderance of evidence approach. According to the graduate student’s case, the accuser claimed that she was unable to consent to intercourse due to considerable alcohol consumption, however the law student claimed that she did not appear to be even slightly inebriated.
In 2014, the acclaimed magazine, Rolling Stone, published an article called “A Rape on Campus” in which a freshman student at the University of Virginia was allegedly gang raped at a fraternity house. The student, referred to as “Jackie” in the article, was apparently led upstairs by a fraternity brother where she was attacked and assaulted by several other men.
For three hours, Jackie recounts, seven men took turns raping her while two others gave instructions and supervised the occurrence. Rolling Stone magazine slandered the University of Virginia as it wrote about its reputation of concealing and dismissing sexual assault issues on campus. Once Jackie’s story was published, it spread like wild re, making headlines on newspapers and media stations across the nation. Her account resulted in the suspension of the fraternity in which she was assaulted. However, within days the story came under scrutiny. According to the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, there was no function at the frat house the night of the alleged rape. And, after the Charlottesville Police Department led a full investigation of the report, there was still no evidence of any assault. In fact, they couldn’t even find students that resembled Jackie’s description of her assaulters. The story, said detectives, journalists, students and investigators, was factitious. No rape had occurred that night. Everything Jackie reported to not only Rolling Stone, but also to one of the Deans at the University of Virginia, her friends, and others, was completely false.
Jackie’s motives for making up a gang rape story are still unclear. However, in doing so, she discredited an esteemed magazine, demonized the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and its members, and besmirched the prestigious reputation of the University of Virginia. Rolling Stone has agreed to settle a defamation lawsuit of $1.65 million to the Virginia Alpha Chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Betsy DeVos has received hundreds of letters from those who have been accused, mostly men, saying that their life had been ruined because they had been branded a rapist. One student said he was suicidal after being accused of sexual assault only three months after his first-ever sexual encounter. Aspiring to be a doctor, he insisted that the false accusation would ruin his future. It is also important to note that victims of sexual assault, might also have similar fears about the affect their assault might have on their futures. Considering such letters, Betsy DeVos has decided to meet with victims of sexual assault, individuals accused of sexual assault and families across the nation to help rectify the ongoing ambiguity of how to handle such matters successfully.
Although false accusations of sexual assault are few and far between, their consequences can be life-changing. Under Betsy DeVos’ new policy, the hope is to create a more fair method for both the accused and the victim, however, time will tell if this new policy proves effective.
The Education Department’s new system has had its fair share of opposition. Some applaud the recent approach, saying processes like mediation help victims seek a full investigation and unbiased trial. However, others condemn DeVos’ new stance, saying that mediation could pressure women into discussing uncomfortable memories.
College campuses have long been accused of ignoring both the rights of those accused as well as the rights of victims of sexual assault. However, sexual assault should not be handled lightly. The new policy hopes that colleges and universities across the nation crack down on Title IX offenses, which include rape, sexual coercion, harassment, blackmail and more. Accusations of such wrongdoings should be taken seriously, however, seeing that the nature of such offenses is sensitive and impactful, factitious recounts of sexual assault should be investigated to ensure that innocent students are not wrongfully punished.