Betsy DeVos's Meeting on Sexual Assault Includes Rape Denial Group

Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is scheduled to give equal time to survivors of campus sexual assault and to the men’s rights groups National Coalition for Men and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) that will represent male students who’ve been accused of rape or sexual assault in meetings Thursday, a spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed to The Advocate. Responding to the news that DeVos will meet with sexual assault survivors and those who've been accused in back-to-back 90-minute sessions to discuss the impact of Title IX’s sexual assault guidance on students, families, and institutions, 118 survivors from 25 states signed a letter and sent it to her and the Trump administration asking, “Exactly who are you here to serve?”

While it seems like a losing proposition to appeal to an administration whose head, Donald Trump, has famously rated women on their appearance, referred to women as pigs, and admitted to grabbing women without consent, the letter earnestly attempts to tap into humanity and a sense of what is right that may be lurking in the administration:

“From the moment we were raped or assaulted, the question of who protects us has haunted us all. Collectively, we represent thousands of instances of institutional failure at colleges, universities, and K-12 schools. We suffered immensely, as did our academics, relationships, and overall well-being. Institutional betrayal forced many of us, and countless others, to leave school.” 

The move on the administration’s part to include former students accused of sexual assault is particularly stinging considering they will be accompanied by the National Coalition for Men, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a misogynist hate group, according to HuffPost

The National Coalition for Men, which describes itself as a “nonprofit educational organization that raises awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys,” has more than a few hateful greatest hits to its name including one of its chapters releasing names and photos of women and labeling them “false accusers,” supporting the Republican House version of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012 (which unlike other versions left out LGBT-inclusive provisions but was ultimately voted down), and suing companies for not allowing men into women’s events, reports ThinkProgress.

Survivors penned the letter to the administration in response to a request from the Department of Education to meet with survivors and advocates, the managing director of End Rape on Campus, Jess Davidson told HuffPost. 

“They have viciously and very intentionally harassed rape survivors online by exposing their identities and posting pictures of them,” Davidson said. “From our perspective, they really have no place in a conversation about civil rights, and it shows that this administration will either turn a blind eye to or actively participate in hostility toward survivors of sexual violence.”  

Possibly even more disturbing than the National Coalition for Men’s inclusion in the discussion — which campus sexual assault survivors have been asking to have with DeVos for months to ensure that the Obama administration's stringent Title IX guidelines on sexual assault are not rescinded — is that she will sit down with members of SAVE, a blatant rape denial organization. Among the staggeringly dangerous misogynist ideas on SAVE’s website in a section titled “Ten Myths of Campus Sexual Assault,” including “rape hoax,” “rape culture hysteria,” and a dismantling of the positive effects of “affirmative consent.” 

The organizer behind Thursday’s sessions with DeVos is the head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, an attorney who worked with Trump to highlight assault charges against Bill Clinton while dismissing women who’d make rape and assault claims against Trump during the presidential campaign, reports The New York Times

Sexual assault survivors and advocates are wary of the meeting that Jackson, herself a survivor, set up between them and DeVos, considering that she believes the rights of the sexual assault victims and the accused are not balanced.

“The accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Jackson told the Times

Imploring the administration to keep Obama-era crackdowns on campus sexual assault in place, the letter signed by survivors reads: 

“The administration has signaled that it is seriously considering further dismantling protections for survivors of sexual violence by weakening the oversight and enforcement mechanisms of the federal government ― enforcement that many vulnerable students and survivors need. We come forward with a simple request: Don’t.”

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