August 22, 2019 | 81° F

BANSAL: Changes in Title IX create more stigma

Opinions Column: Call for Change

A lot has changed and is still changing since former president Barack Obama's administration. While the previous president’s administration implemented new guidelines for Title IX, President Donald J. Trump's administration seems to be vouching to reverse the progress made. Betsy DeVos, the recently appointed secretary of Education, has made several strides against the application of Title IX to college campus sexual assault cases. Partnered with the head of the Office of Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, DeVos’s new standards for Title IX would raise the requirements for making an allegation against an individual accused of rape or sexual assault.

While DeVos’s argument holds validity in the sense that rape accusations could ruin an individual’s future, the secretary of education and Jackson base their changes off non-credible assumptions. Jackson states, “Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of 'we were both drunk,' 'we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.'”

Implying that most victims of rape  — 90 percent of them — accuse their attacker simply because of a bad breakup or a confusing situation is not only incorrect, but a terribly dangerous mindset. As the head of Civil Rights, Jackson holds incredible power to form and change opinions of U.S. citizens. To spread false, exaggerated information about the life-altering situation that is sexual assault adds to the rape culture that we live in today.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), and in contrast to the idea Jackson promoted, false accusations are between 2 and 10 percent. Far too many victims step forward only to be discouraged from finding justice. This explains why about 63 percent of assaults are not even reported to the police. Approximately 23 percent of female undergraduate students are sexually assaulted and 5.4 percent of male undergraduates fall victim. Of students and non-students aged 18 to 24, more than 20 percent of females do not report their assault experiences in fear of counterattacks from law enforcement or the accused party. DeVos and Jackson further encouraging the idea that assault victims’ stories are fabricated or overstated will only affect college campus assaults negatively. Not only is there a higher risk of assault now that it is more difficult to accuse the attacker, but fewer victims will come forward with their stories.

Thankfully, many others are opposed to the change of Title IX guidelines on college campuses. Twenty-eight senators who mostly identify as Democrats, sent in a protest letter against DeVos’s plan of action. This protest letter included signatures from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). “The current guidance is critical to ensuring that schools understand and take seriously their responsibilities under the law. Rescinding the guidance would be a step in the wrong direction in addressing the national epidemic of campus sexual assault,” the letter states. “This shows neither a dedication to a fully transparent process including robust stakeholder engagement, nor a commitment to supporting survivors in obtaining justice and ensuring they are safe on campus.”

While the guideline changes have the potential to alter how sexual assault is reported and handled in college campuses, there are many other implications. By encouraging this amendment in Title IX, DeVos and Jackson are creating an image for themselves as people who, more often than not, do not trust the accounts of rape victims. They are creating a stigma of non-credibility towards these victims and encouraging more fear, denial and skepticism. We should expect much more respect from the head of the Office of Civil Rights and secretary of education. These women in power have the potential to change the way America sees sexual assault, reversing progress after years of protests, rallies and effort to get to where we are now, which still isn’t perfect.

Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School first-year double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. Her column, “Call for Change,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Priyanka Bansal

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