Home Law OPINION: Why Betsy DeVos should reform campus sexual assault policy

OPINION: Why Betsy DeVos should reform campus sexual assault policy

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Title IX changes under the Obama administration aimed at campus sexual assault policy. Now, they’re under fire. Opinion writer Ben Peters makes a case for the accused.

Dept. of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave an incendiary speech at George Mason University on Sept. 7 that was met with significant backlash from the public. She argued that the methods college administrations use to handle cases of sexual assault and rape should be reexamined and reformed.

DeVos’ statements came in light of many cases that have been unjustly decided—noticeably favoring the accuser and leaving the accused’s case to the wayside.

“One rape is too many, one assault is too many, one aggressive act of harassment is one too many, one person denied of due process is too many,” DeVos rightfully said.

In 2011, former President Barack Obama’s Office for Civil Rights made formal amendments to the Title IX portions of the Education Amendments of 1972. One section of Title IX comprises of legislation that requires equal treatment of both men and women in an educational setting. The changes were made in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter that called for several lawfully questionable implications.

One of the most heinous additions introduced in the letter is the allowance of universities to institute kangaroo courts, wherein recognized standards of law in courts are not adhered to. In these courts, only 50 percent of the evidence is required to point to the alleged guilt of the accused to warrant a guilty ruling. In official courts, this standard is typically only applied to civil cases. But cases of rape and sexual assault are not merely civil disputes; they are cases of criminal law and should be treated as such.

The cases were also recommended to have a 60-day limit, which wouldn’t allow ample time for the case to fully develop. As is evidenced here, there is more than sufficient need for reform of this legislation.

The Fifth Amendment to our Constitution reads “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The unfortunate result of Obama’s letter is that cases in unofficial courts within universities become lopsided in that they favor the accused more so than the accuser — a clear violation of due process. Students are being expelled from their schools because of false accusations all over the country. Once billed as a rapist, their college careers are essentially over.

According to The New York Times, the top civil rights official at the Dept. of Education, Candice E. Jackson, has letters “coming into her office by the hundreds” from men who believe to have been wrongly accused of sexual assault or rape. One such letter was from a mother who witnessed her son attempt suicide in light of accusations of rape he swore to be false.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education conducted a study this year and found a staggering 73.6 percent of America’s top 53 universities do not guarantee that their students will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. They also found that 47.2 percent do not require the jury to be impartial. Both are hallmarks of our judicial system in this country, and it is a shame to see them being tarnished by our schools.

Conversely, many opponents of DeVos’ claim that rescinding these policies will only strengthen rapists and encourage sexual assault in our academic institutions when that could not be any further from the truth. Rolling back the “Dear Colleague” letter will only provide more equal protection under the law for both men and women in schools, part of what Title IX originally set out to do.     

The Columbus Dispatch reported in 2016 that a woman has a 13 percent chance of being sexually assaulted in some way at Ohio University. Four rapes were reported last semester within the span of one week. It is clear Ohio U suffers from a sexual violence epidemic. Unfortunately, as hard for some as it may be, the student population and administration must also respect the rights of the accused — which will now be much easier to enforce with the rescinding of the “Dear Colleague” letter.

Following a widely publicized 2013 case of sexual assault concerning two Ohio U students, wherein the accused was found to be innocent, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn eloquently said, “Justice isn’t always popular.”

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