Recently, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has come under fire for purportedly attempting to roll back Title IX, a federal law that protects sexual violence survivors on college campuses. DeVos claims that the law does not grant due process for accused students and intends to reform the law to protect students facing accusations as well.
DeVos met with sexual assault victims, university advocates, accused students and even a men’s rights group accused of harassing women online, to gain direction on how to reform the law. According to “Time” magazine, DeVos’ civil-rights head Candace Jackson disturbingly stated that “90 percent” of campus sexual assault accusations are over drunk sex and breakup sex.
At the return of the new school year, widespread concern of the potential rollback of Title IX has swept college campuses. In light of these recent events, it is important to know what Title IX’s function serves.
According to the NCAA, Title IX is a federal law under the Education Amendments Act of 1972 that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
While Title IX never mentions sexual violence, an interpretation made by the U.S. Department of Education has led to the policy of protecting victims of sexual assault based on the ban of sex discrimination covered under the law.
Under Title IX, institutions that violate the law could lose federal funding. While most schools do not comply with Title IX, none of them have lost any funding. They have, however, lost a significant amount of money in legal damages and attorney fees in cases brought to court.
In 2011, the Dear Colleague Letter sent out under the Obama administration stated that the federal government had been given the authority to direct the procedures that colleges use to judge student-on-student sexual assault allegations. The letter also stated, however, that it did not have the power to create any new legal requirements because it was released without the process of public comment that is needed to make an agency’s pronouncements legally binding.
Despite this, the education department has used the Dear Colleague Letter in investigations and enforcement proceedings against schools.
The Dear Colleague Letter, sent out by the Office for Civil Rights, instructed colleges to use the minimum standard of proof in sexual assault cases and required them to allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings. It also told schools to quicken the judging process, recommending a 60-day limit. The OCR also strongly discouraged the practice of cross-examination, a tactic used to generate answers of “yes” and “no,” to be used on accusers.
The Dear Colleague Letter also states, “… the parties must have an equal opportunity to present relevant witnesses and other evidence. The complainant and the alleged perpetrator must be afforded similar and timely access to any information that will be used at the hearing.”
Based on this information, Betsy DeVos’ claims and efforts seem misguided. Both Title IX and the non-legally binding Dear Colleague Letter protect due process for accused students, even if the procedures to bring accused students to court are based on minimal evidence. If anything, the Dear Colleague Letter needs to be addressed to make it legally binding.
In a society where one in five women and one in 71 men are victims of campus rape or attempted campus rape per year, it is paramount that laws against sexual violence be addressed accordingly and diligently. By enacting non-legal binding laws, giving false, incriminating and degrading statistics and making false claims of injustice, our government has failed in its supposed attempt to combat sexual violence.
In the end, not only is this a failure on Secretary DeVos’ part, but also the Obama administration for not legally ensuring the protection of sexual assault victims on our nation’s campuses.