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DeVos Vows to Replace Obama's Campus Sexual Assault Policies

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. (Gage Skidmore)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday that the Trump administration will replace an Obama-era directive that pushes schools to combat sexual harassment and assault, noting that his initiative must be balanced with the rights of those accused of sexual assault.

The directive was far-reaching, threatening loss of funding to schools that fail to do enough to create an environment in which students are safe from sexual assault and harassment. It also pushed for a lower standard of proof in sexual assault cases.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students. Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved,” DeVos said during her announcement in a speech at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Politico continues:

The Trump administration will revamp the guidance through a rulemaking process that likely will take months, DeVos said during her speech, in which she blasted the current guidance as unfair to those accused of sexual assault or harassment. She said the administration will give all sides a chance to offer opinions on how it should move forward, but the decision is expected to be slammed by advocates for victims of sexual assault, Democrats and some state officials.

“We will seek public feedback and combine institutional knowledge, professional expertise and the experiences of students to replace the current approach with a workable, effective and fair system,” DeVos said.

“This is not about letting institutions off the hook. They still have important work to do.”

The directive DeVos is challenging was controversial with civil liberties groups and women’s advocates. A report released Tuesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education claims that “Nearly three-quarters (73.6%) of America’s top 53 universities do not even guarantee students that they will be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

DeVos’ speech at George Mason University was sponsored by the Federalist Society, a conservative group that challenges the current American legal system. Politico reports that “advocacy groups, including those representing both sexual assault survivors and students accused of assault—were not invited to attend Thursday’s announcement in person, despite meeting with DeVos on the subject in July. Advocates for survivors of sexual assault said they felt they were given short shrift in the process and noted that research has shown false claims of rape are rare.”

During her speech, DeVos condemned acts of sexual misconduct, calling them “reprehensible, disgusting and unacceptable.” But women’s groups were quick to point out the similar amount of time she devoted to talking about the rights of those accused of sexual assault—with one commenter complaining that DeVos “just made campuses safer for rapists.”

NARAL, an abortion rights group, recalled the time DeVos met with men’s rights groups to hear their grievances about how students accused of sexual misconduct are treated unfairly by the system.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also was quick to decry DeVos’ statements on Facebook:

Biden told Teen Vogue in April, “It bothers me most if Secretary DeVos is going to really dumb down Title IX enforcement [for sexual assault survivors]. The real message, the real frightening message you’re going to send out is, our culture says it’s OK. You know, the major reason why women drop out of college when they’re a freshman is because of sexual assault. Not their grades, sexual assault. And so, it would be devastating.”

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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