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Who, Exactly, Is Title IX Meant to Protect?

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to change Title IX so that an accused student could cross-examine a witness through an intermediary, which could dissuade survivors from reporting crimes. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

While Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education investigates federal claims backed by a men’s rights group that women’s studies programs discriminate against men and violate Title IX, survivors of sexual assault are fighting for the ability to attend school without fear of violence.

DeVos, the secretary of education, enraged advocates against sexual violence and harassment when she issued proposed changes last week to Title IX, a federal civil rights law that says any school that discriminates against students based on their sex will not receive federal funding. The proposed changes, activists say, would be detrimental to an already fraught system.

The proposed changes “will return schools to a time where rape, assault and harassment were swept under the rug,” said Jess Davidson, interim executive director of the advocacy group End Rape on Campus.

The suggested rules would make it so that schools aren’t held responsible for most interactions that happen off-campus or online. They also would narrow the scope of what qualifies as sexual harassment. Perhaps most troubling to activists, the proposed rules would allow a defendant to view all evidence and cross-examine a witness through an intermediary in a live hearing, despite the fact that these are not criminal proceedings. Critics say the cross-examination could intimidate witnesses and reduce the number of survivors who choose to come forward.

Brett Sokolow, executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, told Inside Higher Ed that often a school’s decision is stacked toward people who can spend more on legal representation:

There’s this huge asymmetry between male responding parties who can afford lawyers and female reporting parties who can’t. For a lot of those victims—male, female or otherwise identified individuals—who know they can’t afford good legal advice going in, if the other side has high-paid lawyers, I think it’s going to create a powerful incentive to not persist.

Meanwhile, the man who filed the men’s rights complaint, Turkish doctoral candidate Kursat Pekgoz, was involved in a Title IX investigation at the University of Southern California regarding “hostile” behavior toward a woman with whom he had previously had a sexual relationship. He in turn filed a Title IX complaint and a lawsuit, which was thrown out, saying the investigation had hurt his career. He was ordered to pay $50,000 of the woman’s legal fees.

The basis of Pekgoz’s current Title IX complaint, which is filed against Yale, Princeton, USC and Tulane University, is that gender studies programs and women-only groups are discriminatory because women are the majority in most colleges.

Naomi LaChance
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

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