Some Sexual Abuse Survivors Upset Over Betsy DeVos’ Proposal

New rules would increase protections for students accused of sexual misconduct.

Betsy DeVos
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New rules would increase protections for students accused of sexual misconduct.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is creating new rules regarding campus sexual misconduct. These new policies would strengthen the rights of the accused students and reduce the liability of higher education institutions, while also promoting more school-based support for the victims, according to the Washington Examiner.

One of the changes would include the adoption of a more narrow definition of sexual harassment. Under the new definition, institutions will only be responsible for complaints relating to incidents on campus filed through established procedures so administrations actually have knowledge of the situation.

These changes would also be legally enforceable without the need for congressional action following a public comment period. These new rules would also mandate that institutions investigate allegations in a manner such that the accused is able to maintain their innocence until proven guilty. Institutions also wouldn’t open themselves up to liability as long as they offer “supportive measures” to their victims.

DeVos said, “The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students. Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

However, the Detroit Free Press reports that many people are upset by these potential changes. Morgan McCaul, a survivor of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, tweeted, “Is ruining lives your version of a back-to-school welcome?” She later said, “When we define policy about criminal sexual misconduct, it is imperative that we consider victims first. Limiting the availability of justice for complainants is concerning and reckless, especially in today’s climate.”

These policy changes would limited institutions to investigating sexual assaults that only occur on campus. That means assaults that happen in places like fraternity houses or off-campus housing wouldn’t be investigated by schools.

Sage Carson, the manager of a victim advocacy group called Know Your IX, sunk to the ground when she heard the news about the possible policy changes. She said she was in shock. “This is the most pro-school and pro-perpetrator moves since the creation of Title IX 45 years ago.” She was especially concerned about the ability of the schools to limit when they’ll get involved based on the location of an assault. She pointed out, “Where I’m assaulted does not change that I might have to be in a class with my assaulter.”

Betsy DeVos
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed these policy changes because she says the current laws do a “disservice to everyone involved” but many feel these changes would do more harm than good. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

She also explained how direct cross-examination affected her. “I dropped my case because I learned I was going to be questioned directly by the person who assaulted me with only a curtain separating us.” But she does believe both sides should be allowed to submit relevant questions to a third-party to ask each other.

It’s not only survivors of sexual assault that are upset with DeVos’ proposed changes. Several politicians have made it clear they disagree as well, including Senator Richard Blumenthal who Tweeted it was “deplorable and disgusting.”

The proposal is not yet final and according to an Education Department spokesperson, it would need to undergo a public comment period before becoming law.