December 19, 2018 | ° F

DEANGELO: Changes to Title IX undermine justice for victims


Opinions Column: All That Fits


juliadeangelo

In the shadow of recent President Donald J. Trump-land chaos, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed a new federal policy that gives more freedoms to those accused of sexual assault on college campuses, be they men or women, citing that former President Barack Obama-era regulations “lacked basic elements of fairness.” 

At first glance, the Title IX reforms seem to oddly adhere to liberal and feminist principles. But, the policy’s details prove the reform to be more of an imposter than anything. 

Under the Obama administration, Title IX rules, which famously protect people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities, have reportedly stirred wrongful convictions — especially of innocent minority men involved in interracial engagements. Last year, a controversial article in The Atlantic outlined how wrongful accusations can impede an accused student’s entire college education. 

Moreover, on Dec. 4, The New York Times published an opinion piece slated with a hypothetical scenario in which DeVos’s proposed reforms fixed the above problems existing under Title IX. The example followed a theoretical young Black man enrolled at a state university on a scholarship. He and a friend’s white ex-girlfriend matched on Tinder and the two eventually had consensual sex. But, weeks later the young woman reconciles with her boyfriend and claims her Tinder match raped her instead. 

While both the boyfriend and the accused say she is lying, the Title IX investigator concludes the accuser is credible. There is no chance for the accused to cross-examine and his college career and scholarship could be rescinded. 

This imaginary situation is unjust as it does not exactly mirror what happens in reality. False reporting accounts for 2 to 10 percent of cases, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Plus, these rates are frequently inflated, as pointed out by the resource center, since reported rape claims are often labeled as “false” if there is not enough corroborating evidence. 

By no means does this imply that false accusations do not occur. But, taking context and agency away from potential victims and giving it to the accused is not a proper way to solve the issue. That is not real equality. Policies must deal with both sides in a way that does not pit one against the other on paper. 

Most importantly, DeVos’s changes could discourage survivors from coming forward. There are many cases of victims who were assaulted but did not have any hard-line evidence to prove it “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Under Obama-era Title IX, this victim could still confront their attacker and receive justice. Now, that may not be possible. 

Further, the recent proposal relieves universities and institutions of responsibility, as to protect them from being sued by victims. What is considered more given “freedom” in this case is actually allowing for a lawful blind eye. 

Almost immediately after the midterm elections, congressional House Democrats announced they would fight this proposal on school sexual assault. With their newfound majority, DeVos could see some legislative pushback.

“Survivors of sexual assault deserve better — starting with the same protections as accused students in sexual assault proceedings, and to live and learn in a community free of sexual violence,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is on par to become the next chairwoman of the subcommittee that writes the Education Department budget

Still, it is ironic that DeVos wants to roll back protections of assault victims when her own around-the-clock security from the U.S. Marshals Service may cost taxpayers nearly $20 million. Weirdly enough, no other cabinet member is provided the same, or even a similar, detail. 

The idea of innocent until proven guilty is fair, impartial and judicially American. Nevertheless, the court process in applying that right should not be copied and pasted across all boards, especially when that board is a university where a safe learning environment is both promised and essential. 

Julia Deangelo is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring  in journalism and media studies. Her column, "All That Fits," runs on  alternate Thursdays. 

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Julia Deangelo

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