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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has announced that her department will begin reviewing some Obama-era regulations that require universities and colleges that receive federal funding to abide by Title IX rules, which includes how the schools handle sexual assault allegations.
To review: Title IX was enacted in 1972 as a means to ensure equal rights to male and female students and student athletes in an effort to thwart discrimination based on gender—in athletics, in course offerings, or in cases of misconduct.
Under Title IX, in 2011, the Obama administration issued the Dear Colleague Letter, which acts as a set of guidelines for how schools should address sexual assault claims in order to hold them accountable for providing a truly equal educational experience. Because, reminder, sexual assault on college campuses is a huge problem. Over 20 percent of female undergrads experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. And unfortunately, there's a long history of sweeping these issues under the rug and flat-out not providing justice when it's due. Take Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who only spent three months behind bars (out of an already-low six-month sentence) last year for sexually assaulting a nearly unconscious woman near a dumpster behind a frat house.
"The era of 'rule by letter' is over," DeVos said during her 20-minute speech to a crowd at George Mason University's Law School campus in Arlington, VA. She added that the current reporting process, though well intentioned, is a "failed system" that is "increasingly elaborate and confusing" and has done a "disservice to everyone involved." By everyone, she means both the survivors and those who've been accused of sexual assault. (Related: This Teen's Photo Series Offers New Perspective On Trump's Comments About Women)
While DeVos did not report any cemented changes to Title IX, she did present two possible approaches the Department of Education might explore to help replace the current policy. She says these potential changes are based on conversations she's had with those impacted by certain Title IX policies, which include representatives from a men's rights group, sexual assault survivors, and representatives from educational institutions.
The first possible approach would be to "launch a transparent notice and comment process to incorporate the insights of all parties," and the second would be to "seek public feedback and combine institutional knowledge, professional expertise, and the experiences of students to replace the current approach with a workable, effective, and fair system." It's unclear what either of those scenarios would look like in a real-life campus situation. (Related: New Nationwide Program Aims to Reduce Sexual Assault on College Campuses)
DeVos spoke at great length about protecting those who've been "wrongly accused," devoting roughly the same amount of time to both sides of this disturbing equation (victims and the accused) during her speech. Problem is, just 2 to 10 percent of reported rapes turn out to be false claims, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This type of talk makes it all the more difficult for women to speak up about their assaults, which is hard enough as it is.
As she addressed the listeners inside Founders Hall, nearly two dozen people protested outside to protect the rights of those who have been and who will be sexually assaulted. "No survivor groups were invited to today's decision," Jess Davidson, managing director of End Rape on Campus, who took part in the small protest, told the Washington Post. "The fact that they're not in the room is not reflective of who's actually going to be impacted by the policy. We're gathering outside the speech to show how important survivor voices are."