Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who gave equal time to survivors of sexual assault and to men’s rights activists and a rape denial group in meetings about Title IX and President Barack Obama-era guidelines that pushed colleges and universities to crack down on campus sexual assault, announced Thursday that those protections would be rewritten or rescinded under the Trump administration, according to The New York Times.
“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” DeVos said in a speech at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”
It’s not shocking that DeVos and the Trump administration opted to do away with the guidelines addressing sexual assault her meeting about the subject included not only assault survivors but the fringe men’s rights groups the National Coalition for Men, which describes itselt as a “nonprofit educational organization that raises awareness about the ways sex discrimination affects men and boys,” and the rape denial group Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, which includes sections on “rape hoax” and “rape culture hysteria” on its website.
While DeVos failed to provide details of what would replace the Obama-era guidelines, she did indicate that the administration believes that efforts to curb sexual assault had begun to infringe upon students’ rights — those students being the accused, not the victims.
Reaction to DeVos announcement has been fast and furious from women’s rights and LGBT rights groups that are concerned about the removal of the guidelines leaving certain marginalized groups even more vulnerable.
“The Secretary's actions are particularly alarming for LGBTQ students: bisexual women are almost twice as likely to experience intimate partner violence than heterosexual women, and are more than twice as likely to experience intimate partner sexual assault,” the National LGBTQ Task Force’s director of advocacy and action, Stacey Long Simmons, said in a statement. “Nearly half (47%) of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. On campus, LGBTQ students and students of color are at least twice as likely to be sexually assaulted or harassed, compared to their non-LGBTQ and white colleagues, and may face discrimination or harassment when reporting those crimes. Students with disabilities are among the most impacted, yet reports by students with disabilities are often ignored.”
In her speech announcing the upcoming removal of the current guidelines, DeVos attempted to assure survivors that she and the administration were there for them, although the action of having given time to a rape denial group in preparation for Thursday’s decision would indicate otherwise. “One rape is one too many. “One assault is one too many. One aggressive act of harassment is one too many,” said DeVos, a woman whose boss Donald Trump has admitted, “I grab them [women] by the pussy” without consent.
Still, DeVos devoted much of her speech to defending those accused of rape and sexual assault, referring to campus sexual misconduct hearings as “kangaroo courts” that force school administrators to act as “judge and jury,” according to the Times. The argument against the Obama-era guidelines has been that it’s unfair of colleges and universities to use a lower standard of proof than that used by courts in determining guilt in sexual assault cases because the process can stigmatize the accused and follow them into their careers and futures.
But groups like the National Women’s Law Center have asserted that a lower standard of proof is exactly what colleges need to stem assault on campus, as they don’t have the investigative and subpoena powers of the police, the Times reports.
“It [removing the guidelines] will discourage schools from taking steps to comply with the law — just at the moment when they are finally working to get it right,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center. “And it sends a frightening message to all students: Your government does not have your back if your rights are violated.”