Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
This month, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' amendments to Title IX laws will go into effect. Many have taken to social media to express their concerns about the changes to the law. These changes include narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, forcing schools to dismiss any reports of violence that occurred off-campus, and requiring colleges to allow the representatives of the accused to cross-examine the survivor.
The rule regarding the dismissal of cases that occur off-campus is particularly threatening to those studying abroad. If an act of violence occurs between two students outside of the U.S., the university will no longer be responsible.
In addition, the previous 60-day limit for the Department of Education to file a reply to any complaints has been lifted. This means schools can extend investigations for lengthy periods—possibly allowing an abuser to graduate before any charges can be filed. Because these new rules also require both parties to attend the same school in order for a case to be addressed, if either the survivor or abuser graduates or transfers, there is nothing the survivor can do.
Title IX is supposed to make reporting easier for students. As someone who is a survivor of sexual assault, the loopholes created by these amendments are appalling. Reporting sexual assault is already complicated enough for someone trying to seek confidential or non-confidential guidance. Not to mention, most people are close with their abuser—meaning they will continue to see and interact with this person even as an investigation is carried out.
With the new changes, colleges can now dismiss cases of sexual violence through mediation between the accused and the survivor. While in some situations this may be adequate or a better solution for the survivor's wishes, I believe survivors should still have the right to pursue legal action if they choose.
Now that the definition of harassment and assault have been narrowed, more evidence is necessary to move forward with reports. Very few assaults leave significant evidence, and if they do, the evidence has expired by the time a report can be made. This is not fair to undermine survivors in order to protect abusers. Considering only two-percent of sexual assault reports are false, this need for subjective evidence only allows for more abusers to continue to harm their victims.
Remember that reporting an abuser does not ruin their life, they ruined it themselves through their own actions. It should be up to a survivor whether or not they want to report, and they should be able to take the necessary steps at their own pace.
So, what can you do about these new rules at your college? Even the act of advocating for better resources for survivors on your campus could make a difference. It's time to speak out for all those silenced by the system.
To learn more about Title IX and how to be a better advocate on your campus, visit Know Your IX.