Betsy DeVos announced that the "Dear Colleague Letter" guidelines are officially out.
It's official: The U.S. Department of Education has eliminated key Title IX guidelines on how sexual assault cases should be handled at schools. Education secretary Betsy DeVos announced today that while her department is still reviewing all of the rules, they have removed the "Dear Colleague Letter" enacted by the Obama administration, which was placed in an effort to provide clearer and more definitive instructions on how schools are expected to handle sexual assault claims.
In its place, the department has issued a Q&A document outlining how schools are required to respond to claims, as well as what they are allowed to decide on their own to develop their own policies. Notably, for some schools, this change will make it more difficult for the victim to prove guilt in these cases.
This announcement comes less than three weeks after DeVos announced that her department would be reviewing Title IX, something she says was overdue for a change. In her first speech on the subject, DeVos called for an alternative to the current guidelines, arguing that the reporting process was "increasingly elaborate and confusing," and contributed to a "failed system." Critics of the guidelines argue that they're unfair to those who are being accused.
Some context: Title IX was created in 1972 to guarantee that all students have access to fair and equal opportunities regardless of gender. The rules also apply to discrimination in sports and in coursework, but also misconduct on campus, such as sexual assault. Fast forward to 2011, the Obama administration adds in the "Dear Colleague Letter" to clarify how complaints should be handled under Title IX by school officials.
While proponents of DeVos' changes may say they protect the falsely accused, the decision to eliminate the "letter" could have damaging effects. With more than 20 percent of female undergrads subjected to rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) as we previously reported, softening up the guidelines could make an already scary campus issue even worse. What's more, only 2 to 10 percent of reported rapes turn out to be false claims.
There is still a requirement by law for the school to investigate the claim, and many colleges have announced they are holding off on changing any policies until the review is complete, according to Politico.
"This is a disgrace and a disservice to everyone who has worked to address sexual violence," senator Bernie Sanders tweeted. "Congress must act to undo this terrible decision."
Whatever the outcome, we can only hope that victims don't feel even more discouraged about coming forward to seek justice.