Changing the guidelines for how colleges should approach campus sexual assault is not something that should be overlooked or dismissed as another topic in this week’s news cycle.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued temporary new rules on Sept. 22 that, if made permanent, will grant more leniencies toward those accused of sexual assault. The Trump Administration believes that reversing the Obama Administration’s guidelines will provide everyone with “more confidence in [the process’] outcomes”, commented DeVos, according to The Guardian.
DeVos expects that the new guidelines will help all students be treated “fairly”, but there is one inherent flaw: her guidelines operate on the assumption that survivors of sexual assault lie.
According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it is incredibly difficult to determine when there are false reports made about sexual assault since investigative techniques vary. When comparing the Obama-era guidelines to the newly proposed guidelines, The Guardian reported, “Under Obama’s instructions from 2011 and 2014, colleges were notified the department expected them to use ‘the preponderance of the evidence’ standards, while DeVos lets colleges choose between that standard and ‘the clear and convincing evidence standard.’”
As it stands, DeVos’ guidelines will permit the leeway that the Center cautions against, indicating that her guidelines will do greater harm to investigations. The Center also reported, “Misconceptions about false reporting rates have direct, negative consequences and can contribute to why many victims don’t report sexual assaults.”
As of 2015, the Center reported, “One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.” Additionally, it noted that more than 90 percent of survivors do not report their assault. If you are a survivor, DeVos’ standard will likely be much more difficult to meet because now there will be a policy that supports people’s preconceived notions and prejudices.
As reported by NBC News, National Women’s Law Center President and CEO Fatima Goss Graves stated, “This is not something to rush out. This [guidance] is a mess. This is only creating confusion and may lead to systems that in affect punish survivors.” Of particular concern to Goss Graves is a footnote that states, “The standard of evidence for evaluating a claim of sexual misconduct should be consistent with the standard the school applies in other student misconduct cases”, in effect, putting these claims on par with misconduct such as plagiarism or cheating.
If DeVos’ guidelines are enacted, the likelihood that statistics will lower for how many survivors do not come forth seems unlikely. Even if we maintain Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that anyone charged is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, it does not mean that measures on campuses should be taken only after the accused is tried, which could take several years. There has to also be consideration for the person reporting the assault, which the current administration seems set against.
The psychological distress that the updated Title IX Policy may put on survivors for the sake of the accused should make everyone — from the public to the legislative branch — hesitant. Moreover, if there is going to be reform, it should be for the right reasons.
Reform should not come because the Trump Administration wants to simply “clean house” of the former administration’s policies. It should not come because they think that survivors are liars or because reporting sexual assault could “ruin the accused’s life.” If anything, often the accused receive more sympathy than those who many people label as “whistle blowers.”
Our campuses need to be better educated with regard to sexual assault. There needs to be a consistent standard for how it is investigated and processed by law enforcement and campuses, and it should not be changed because there is some deep-seeded need to reverse former policies.
Overall, our leaders need to stop oversimplifying sexual assault and in turn, contributing to the stigma that already surrounds assault as a whole.