“If everything is harassment, then nothing is,” Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, likes to say.
In an attempted upheaval of some of America’s most valued policies, DeVos has expressed her hopes to “revamp” Title IX, claiming that it is a failed system when it comes to sexual misconduct on campus.
To lay some foundational context to the issue, Title IX, created in 1972, prohibits educational facilities from discriminating students due to their gender. In 2011, “Dear Colleague”, a letter issued by the national Office for Civil Rights, renounced sexual violence using Title IX, announcing that they would better protect victims of sexual assault. However, Devos plans to rescind these protections.
Last Thursday, DeVos openly criticized “Dear Colleague”, claiming that there exists an imbalance in power, with those accusing others of sexual violence ultimately holding more leverage than the accused. DeVos seems to be on a personal crusade, determined to protect the self-proclaimed victim of the assault crime, as well as the potential offender. What she does not realize is that her proposed balance of protection for either side of the situation is simply unfeasible. By attempting to compensate for the “injustice” and lack of rights imposed on the supposed sexual violence offender, DeVos compromises the safety of the victim, whether or not said victim’s accusations have any basis.
Most important to note are the flaws in DeVos’ argument. In hoping to protect the rights of the accused, DeVos procures some arguably weak evidence against current policy. For instance, DeVos cites the apparent lack of notice accused individuals get when playing the blame game. This, coupled with the nonexistent access to evidence, skews the current policy heavily in favor of whoever is doling out sexual violence accusations. What makes this example relatively illegitimate is the fact that it violates guidelines Title IX stands by. “Dear Colleague” explicitly 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”.
Additionally, DeVos claims that her reasoning for deciding to alter Title IX is due to a lot of falsely reported sexual assault cases; however, she over exaggerates the amount of false reports. Promoting this idea that “most of the allegations were overblown or false” undermines actual victims and feeds into the ever growing rape culture, which, ironically, led to the reforms of Title IX in the first place. Also, the current policies are in favor of objectivity regarding both complainant and victim. DeVos’ insinuations merely add to the already popular narrative— the contrived “victim vengeance” story that feeds into the pervasive belief that innocent people are being wrongfully accused and caught in the crossfire.
Notably, this is not the first time arguments in favor of “renewing” the system have been either heavily exaggerated or false. DeVos’ secretary, Candace Jackson, once stated “90% of sexual assault accusations fall into the category of ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together’.” It is no surprise that her comment had been false. Only 2 to 10% of all sexual assault allegations are false, not 90%. After receiving much backlash, Jackson ended up apologizing for spreading misinformation.
As a ripple effect of this issue, DeVos’ controversial ideology is allowing universities to silence victims. By returning to the “pre-Dear Colleague” era, universities are able to weaken their procedures for sexual assault investigations, which in turn, encumbers victims attempting to seek justice. Colleges are already lenient towards sexual assault cases, as evidenced by the abundance of victims being mistreated by the universities themselves. Now, they will have a proper excuse to disregard such allegations in fear of tarnishing their reputation.
Lastly but perhaps most importantly, DeVos is encouraging victim-blaming by having her ideas serve as a “shield” for placing the fault on the victim. How many times have we heard “why did she wear that in the first place?” or “she could have fought back” in regards to sexual harassment accusations? With the abundance of statements tearing down victims who speak up, it adds onto the prominent stigma of doubting the accuser whenever a case is reported.
It is understandable why DeVos might be taking such measures in regards to defending the accused. With the abundance of illegitimate accusations that have been reported, DeVos is merely trying to reform Title IX to help innocents being falsely accused. However, her approach is all wrong. The current system already protects students from discrimination— whether it be the accused or the accuser —so instead of starting from scratch, she should have schools enforce the policies properly. Title IX is not failing; how it is being implemented is.