Betsy DeVos’ Sexual Assault Policy: A Change for the Worse

United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to reform the sexual harassment policies on college campuses across the country. The complete opposite of former President Obama’s policies regarding sexual harassment, DeVos’s new rules would instead favor students who are accused of sexual misconduct, rather than the victims. This new policy is one that will enable sexual predators, discourage individuals from reporting assaults, and take help away from those who need it most: the victims.

According to DeVos and information received by the New York Times, the Trump administration wants to “narrow the definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses.” These policies will also establish a higher legal standard of proof for colleges to determine whether or not a sexual assault occurred—basically meaning that indisputable, concrete evidence must be presented in order for the accused to be reprimanded.

The Trump administration states that the Obama administration’s previous rules “lacked basic elements of fairness,” which is why they believe an even playing ground must be created for all students involved. According to DeVos, this policy will give colleges more freedom to create a fair course of legal action for both the victims and the accused. But it seems like the accused are the only ones who stand to benefit.

The issue of sexual harassment has been extremely prominent in the media throughout the past few years, as sexual harassment incidents have been uncovered in various industries, specifically in Hollywood, and on prominent college campuses. DeVos’s new policy is coming at the worst time, as major universities are facing extensive sexual harassment scandals.

As a new freshman, I’m concerned about the effects that these policy changes will have here at Marist College. If something were to happen, it would now be easier for the predator to avoid being charged for any wrongdoing.

The Trump administration has said that DeVos’s new policy was created as a result of changes “long sought by advocates for accused students, most of whom are men, who had complained that campus judicial processes had become heavily biased in favor of female accusers,” according to the New York Times, which I find extremely invalid.

Since the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the topic of sexual harassment has become much more prominent and increasingly sensitive due to the large amount of women and men who have shared their stories. The Trump administration is using an incorrect assumption as an excuse to favor the accused, who may be women as well. It is not making the playing field fair, but instead favoring perpetrators of sexual violence.

Janet Napolitano, the Trump administration’s Secretary of Homeland Security, said the department’s announcement would “in effect weaken sexual violence protections, prompt confusion among campuses about how best to respond to reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment, and unravel the progress that so many schools have made.” Napolitano’s argument is valid, and proves how DeVos’s policy is obviously favoring the students who are accused of harassment.

Many victims already struggle to share their stories in a system that should be working to help them. This new policy blatantly favors the students who are accused of harassment and puts the victims in an even more vulnerable position, possibly even reversing the progress that many have made by speaking up about their sexual harassment experiences.

Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Catelyn Di LevaComment