Be Mindful: Betsy DeVos is Dangerous for Students

Only 8 percent of CU students reported their sexual assault in 2016. DeVos wants to make that worse.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently claimed that Obama-era regulations on Title IX “weaponized the Office for Civil Rights,” thus further exacerbating the issue of sexual assault on campuses across the country and threatening the ability of universities to accurately and successfully combat sexual violence.

DeVos’ main argument against the regulations was rooted in “the notion that a school must diminish due process rights” of the accused.

Yes, false accusations are an issue, and there are many instances in which false accusations can be career-ending or life-threatening. But those instances pale in comparison to the amount of sexual assaults that go unresolved or unreported due to the failures of the system in helping victims of rape and assault.

It is estimated that between 2 and 10 percent of all rape accusations are baseless. Why should we jeopardize resources for 98 to 92 percent of all rape survivors because a relatively small fraction of accusers are lying?

At the University of Colorado Boulder alone, a university-administered study revealed that 28 percent of female undergraduates had been sexually assaulted. Perhaps even more disconcerting, only 8 percent of victims reported the incident to the university of police. According to the Denver Post, students refrained from sharing information because they did not believe “it was serious enough” or “they blamed themselves for what happened.”

Although Title IX was signed by President Nixon in 1972, there was no way to reprimand universities that failed to investigate cases of sexual assault until 2011 when the Obama administration released the Dear Colleague letter. The letter, written by Russlynn Ali, then the assistant secretary for civil rights, noted the vast underreporting and mishandling of sexual assault cases and the responsibility of universities to handle the epidemic, or face the revocation of federal funds. 

Secretary DeVos claims that this letter has caused universities to frenziedly rescind the rights of often male students who are accused of rape or assault for fear of financial retaliation.

In some ways, DeVos is right: The number of sexual violence investigation rose dramatically thanks to the DCL, even quadrupling before Trump took office. Still, the “hundreds upon hundreds” of active investigations are minuscule when you consider there are 20.4 million students enrolled in universities across the United States. 

If, as DeVos stated, “one rape is one too many,” then we cannot afford to rescind the rights of accusers in a manner that forces them to fear coming forward. If “not one more survivor will be silenced,” then we must stop creating a false equivalency between the dilemma of the accused and the accuser –– it is not only wrong, it is irresponsible. Nullifying the Obama administration’s advances in combatting sexual assault in a way that allows universities to face absolutely no tangible consequences for their willingness to deny the issue of sexual assault is not going to help those who are victims of false accusations, it’s only going to embolden those who assault students at our universities.

As DeVos said, “[w]e can do a better job of preventing misconduct,” but not by making it harder than it already is for victims to seek justice.

In light of numerous natural disasters, the dissipation of DACA and dealing every day with an administration that is hell-bent on the reversal of everything that came out of President Obama’s 8-year tenure, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on in the country; but DeVos’ statement on sexual assault is not something we should allow ourselves to look over. We need to ensure that students do not fear for their education, or for their lives, when they are a victim of sexual assault. We need to shame the rape culture we see on campuses in such a way that we eradicate it. We do not need to embolden dangerous individuals by increasing the leniency on what is or is not assault while decreasing the actions required by our universities.

Click here for a link to your local representative. 

Written September 2017 for Reporting II