Title IX should prioritize victims

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

Although Title IX is extremely important to college students, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering making drastic changes to the way the system currently operates.

According to the New York Times, DeVos is preparing new policies regarding campus sexual misconduct that would increase the rights for students accused of assault, harassment or rape and reduce liability for universities.

DeVos has not publicly announced these policy changes yet, but the New York Times obtained a copy of her proposal. It is not too late to demand that DeVos not restrict victims’ rights, but rather increase support, resources and rights for victims while continuing to hold universities responsible for failing to protect students from sexual assault and harassment.

Last year, DeVos announced her plan to review and replace Obama-era Title IX guidelines, calling it a “failed system” of sexual assault enforcement on campus. She rescinded an Obama-era guideline known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, which stated sexual violence is harassment, putting it under the jurisdiction of Title IX and instructed schools to use the lowest standard of proof, a preponderance of evidence, meaning that it must be more than likely that someone is responsible for the incident in question, rather than using “beyond a reasonable doubt” as the standard.

Supporting victims and protecting students needs to be the No. 1 priority of universities when it comes to sexual assault.

On more than one occasion DeVos has expressed her concern that universities are not doing enough to protect the rights those accused of sexual assault. Protecting the rights of the accused at the expense of the rights of the victim is wrong and will only lead to more incidents of crime and more assailants going free.

Research released in 2010 from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported, and that the prevalence of false reports of sexual violence is low – between 2 and 10 percent.

Those accused of sexual violence have rights that need to be protected, but survivors of sexual assault and harassment need to be protected just as much. Limiting liability for universities and expanding the rights of those accused only harms victims.

Before she officially makes these changes, we ask students, parents, faculty and universities to publicly state their disagreement with these changes and ask DeVos to hold universities and those accused accountable for their actions.