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Op-ed: Betsy DeVos Plans to Toss Women's Rights Aside

By Annmarie Mullen | 9/29/17 9:00am | Updated 9/29/17 5:56pm
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The Trump administration is no stranger to accusations of misogyny. After all, Trump is the man who, by his own admission, finds it acceptable to grab women inappropriately. It comes as no surprise that the administration has recently taken steps to repeal women’s rights.

On Sept. 7, during a speech at George Mason University, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the federal government would be taking steps to rescind the Obama administration's 2011 policy on sexual misconduct. The policy defined sexual harassment on college campuses as a form of sex discrimination, violating Title IX. To combat this discrimination, universities had to provide accommodations to victims, such as free counseling and removal of the accused from classes shared with victims.

More controversially, the policy had lowered the standard of proof necessary to find the accused guilty. In criminal law, the prosecution must prove that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. For these hearings, however, the accused could be found guilty if more than 50 percent of the evidence pointed to guilt.

Critics argued that it was unfair for the hearing standards to be lower than those used in criminal law. In fact, they argued, criminal law should be the only place these cases are tried; the universities should let police handle sexual assault crimes. Victim advocacy groups countered by pointing out that women are often dismissed by law enforcement, and therefore requiring aggressive action on the part of the universities to keep them safe. 


DeVos sided with such critics in her speech, alleging that the policy stripped the rights of the accused. She also argued that the definition of sexual harassment was too broad, stating that, “If everything is harassment, then nothing is.” 


The secretary is correct in saying that the rights of the accused must be protected, including the right to assumed innocence. However, DeVos misrepresented the Obama-era policy throughout her speech. The accuser was presumed innocent, and had the right to present witnesses and view the evidence at the hearing. DeVos also exaggerated the number of false rape accusations made. Anywhere from .06 percent to 8 percent of rape accusations are false, meaning the vast majority are true. Within that percentage, according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, only 20 percent of college-aged rape victims actually report to the police, and of those, only 3 percent of rapists are convicted and incarcerated. The number of college-aged men suffering from false rape accusations is microscopic, if it exists at all.  


DeVos’s cause was further hurt by her actions prior to Thursday’s speech. During her fact-finding mission on Title IX, she met with a men’s rights group. The National Coalition of Men published the photos and contact information of sexual assault survivors online in 2014, an action which cannot be defended. If she had the best interests of survivors at heart, she would not have given this misogynistic group the same credence as victim advocacy groups. 

 

DeVos’s speech does not mean that campus rape protections are gone forever. In her speech, DeVos said that the Department of Education was still working on the new policy. People have time to lobby the government to protect women’s rights on college campuses.

Individual universities can also resist the change. AU’s own vice president of campus life, Fanta Aw, sent an email on Sept. 8 pledging AU’s “commitment to fair process and equity in Title IX cases,” promising that “any federal guidance that may come will be reviewed thoroughly with our community.” If and when that time comes, AU students should fight to protect the rights of women on campus.