Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has followed through on her threat to overhaul the system for dealing with sexual assault on university campuses. Specifically, she has issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing the 2011 Title IX Guidance (and the 2014 follow up) that discussed the obligations schools have to address campus sexual violence. The 2011 letter was hailed by survivors and advocates as a step towards improving campus culture, but DeVos has taken issue with the fact that it allows for a range of incidents to be considered sexual assault, as she believes too many people are being falsely accused.
"Any perceived offence can become a full-blown Title IX investigation, but if everything is harassment then nothing is,” she said, in a speech at George Mason University earlier this month. With this latest advice, universities are no longer required to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof, which means the charge should be proven to be more likely true than not, rather than the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard. Now, schools will be free to put in place their own systems for dealing with Title IX complaints. This new advice also affects other aspects of Title IX enforcement, such as the ability to cross-examine witnesses and possible time delays.
If DeVos thought the old system was messy, the new rules are an absolute nightmare when it comes to creating a cohesive system across the country. It also means survivors will not have access to standardized procedures, and could face additional discrimination when attempting to register their complaints. According to the new letter, the Department of Education intends to create a new and more effective system based on public consultation. In the meantime however, survivors, their supporters and universities are left in limbo.
Read the full document here.
Image via The Hunting Ground.
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Molly McLaughin is a writer who likes pizza, politics and poetry. In that order. She tweets at @mollysgmcl.