The Secretary of Education claimed the new policy would protect the civil rights of those accused, while ignoring the fact that it would discourage survivors from coming forward.
United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently passed regulations that would provide more rights to those accused of sexual assault on college campuses. The move has been highly criticized. Many critics claim that victims will now be less likely to come forward and report their perpetrators. It also erases several Obama-era policies under the federal law Title IX, which seeks to protect victims of sexual assault. However, DeVos' department issued a statement stating that they only wished to reach an agreement that was fair to all parties involved. Some of the changes include allowing those accused of harassment to question evidence and cross-examine their accusers, CNN reports.
Following the policy changes, DeVos issued a statement defending them. "Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault," she explained. "This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process." The newly introduced rules will go into effect this August. In addition to providing more protections to the accused, the rules narrow the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment, under the new rules, includes a "school employee conditioning education benefits on participation in unwelcome sexual conduct," "unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity," or "sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking." The definition under the Obama administration was far broader. Furthermore, the new definition obligates schools to investigate the allegations in any formal complaint but dismiss any allegations - however heinous they may be - that do not meet the current definition of sexual harassment.
Further to this, the final rule of the definition of sexual harassment differs from what constitutes harassment in the workplace as outlined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature." The regulations will apply to all school-related activities, whether they take place on or off the college campus. However, allegations placed during study abroad programs do not qualify. Kenneth Marcus, the assistant secretary of the department's Office for Civil Rights, called the new rules a "game-changer."
"It marks the end of the false dichotomy of either protecting survivors, while ignoring due process, or protecting the accused, while disregarding sexual misconduct," he stated. "There is no reason why educators cannot protect all of their students -- and under this regulation there will be no excuses for failing to do so." On the other hand, advocates of victim support groups have argued that the new ruled only disregard victims and will further suppress them from coming forward when they have experienced assault. President and CEO of the National Women's Law Center Fatima Goss Graves urged, "If this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault."
According to Secretary DeVos, her department received "more than 124,000 public comments" slamming the newly introduced regulations. While she claimed that her team had spent over two years researching the policy, few are convinced. "[The] reality is that civil rights really can't wait, and students' cases continue to be decided," she said. "We've been working on this for more than two years, so it's not a surprise to institutions that it was coming."