On Thursday, Sept. 7, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos delivered a policy address on Title IX and managed to make me sick to my stomach at the same time.
As Secretary of Education, DeVos is responsible for administering federal assistance to schools and enforcing federal education laws. One of these education laws is Title IX, a piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities operated by those who receive federal aid.
The address, given at George Mason University, raised eyebrows as DeVos affirmed that current policy does not give enough rights to those who are convicted of sexual assault.
According to statistics provided by RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, it is estimated that 656 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
Obama-era initiatives, such as the “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011, ramped up Title IX accountability for universities by placing additional regulations on how sexual assault reports are handled.
The letter, which was sent to roughly 7,000 colleges nationwide, told schools to accelerate their investigations and discouraged cross-examination of accusers.
It also reaffirmed that schools must use the lowest possible standard of proof in sexual assault cases. Because universities do not have court powers such as the subpoena to force production of evidence, using this standard helps to safeguard testimonies of those coming forward against their attackers.
These regulations comply with Title IX by creating an environment where both female and male victims feel they are safe to speak out against sexual abuse.
DeVos, however, argued in her speech that regulations such as these turn the accused into victims by denying their right to due process.
Her opinion was formed after meeting with sexual assault survivors, previously accused students and men’s rights activists.
Facts (may I add these are not from the alternative breed) support that only 2 to 8 percent of all reported sexual assault cases turn out to be false accusations, consistent with the rates of false reports of all other violent crimes in the U.S. according to Stanford University’s Men Against Abuse Now group.
It is undeniable that, yes, this number is certainly unacceptable and needs to be dealt with eventually, but to be candid, we have bigger issues on our hands to deal with first.
When we look at the numbers which suggest one in five college aged women and one in twenty college aged men will graduate after becoming a victim or attempted victim of sexual assault, it is clear that the bigger issue is not dropping our numbers of false accusations, but rather, shrinking the rates of those who are true victims of this heinous crime.
We also must create an environment where all victims, men and women, feel comfortable to report violence without fear their accusation will not be taken seriously.
Like former Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Tom Wolf, I am saddened by this recent development, and I will continue to fight to protect Title IX and victims of sexual assault. I cannot wait to run for public office someday so I can help make legislation that protects the most vulnerable. Until then I’ll be watching the news and speaking out via the Perspectives section of the Knight.