Home Opinion OPINION: Sexual assault on campus could get even worse

OPINION: Sexual assault on campus could get even worse

8 min read

Betsy DeVos argued that campus sexual assault regulations are unfair for the accused. Opinion writer Emma Kennedy insists that she’s belittling the victims.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a speech Sept. 7 declaring her plan to change campus sexual assault regulations — Obama-era rulings that some say promote predetermined guilt without due process. DeVos intends to place more emphasis on false accusations of sexual assault, which she claims were too prevalent in the Obama era.

In the past year here at Ohio University, we have seen a number of reported sexual assaults and a few physical assault cases. In Feb. 2017, Ohio U had four rapes reported in one week. In a survey administered by the school, 13 percent of women said they had been raped on Ohio U’s campus, out of 1000 women who responded.

Changing the way campuses approach assault could worsen the already high occurrence of these cases and cause conflict in resolving them. More often than not, colleges are vague concerning their sexual assault policies. Adding more regulations will only make resolving sexual assault cases even more challenging.

DeVos clarified that sexual assault is disgusting and unwelcomed, but she also claimed that men are often discriminated against in such situations. Statistics show 23.1 percent of undergraduate females experience sexual assault compared to 5.4 percent of undergraduate males. Therefore, women are at a higher risk of being assaulted on campuses.

Image by Kat Tenbarge

It is true that people, especially men, are falsely accused of rape, and this is unacceptable. But false accusations are also seemingly rare, as studies show only between two and eight percent of reports shown are false accusations. This is different from a baseless report, which means there was not enough evidence to support the claim. A false report has to be proven that it is false through an investigation.

There are also plenty of cases where men are not given long jail sentences for their actions, even with strong evidence. One of the most famous instances of this involved Stanford University student Brock Turner.

When investigating sexual assault, prosecutors need to look at the crime and not the individual. Too often, cases are not handled fairly because of who the rapist was or who the family of the rapist was.

Women on college campuses are taught to never walk alone and to be aware of their surroundings at all times because sexual assault is an epidemic. The correct way of fixing this epidemic is not by giving those accused more ways of getting away with their crime but to hold the perpetrators accountable to the law.

Ohio U President Duane Nellis sent out a statement indicating DeVos’ changes would not change the way the university responds to sexual assault.  Ohio U is working hard against sexual assaults on campus, with emphasis on consent and campus safety procedures. The last thing it needs is to be challenged by the government when trying to resolve a court case.

When the country is experiencing high sexual assault rates, the correct response is to do everything possible to stop assaults. That is exactly what Ohio U is currently doing and should continue to do. DeVos is wrong to turn her attention to those being accused. When officials in government alter their view from helping the victim to helping the accused, attackers find new power in their ability to commit sexual assault without consequence.

Ohio U has taken to placing signs in public areas of campus defining consent. Teaching correct definitions of consent can help students understand when sexual assault can take place. The campus has opened up conversations about sexual assault that give students an opportunity to learn ways to prevent and avoid sexual assault, which is crucial if we want to put an end to the problem.

Nellis has the correct approach of treating each and every sexaul assault case seriously. Properly investigating sexual assault cases not only helps to solve cases but also to help avoid false accusations.

DeVos is not wrong that the system of investigating sexual assault cases can result in false punishment. However, putting more focus on the accused may be harmful to the victims. Withdrawing support from sexual assault victims will only cause a spike in the rates of sexual assault cases that go unresolved.

DeVos is taking a risk by changing the narrative from the victim to the accused. This shift will cause more problems to arise at colleges and universities, and Ohio U won’t be spared.

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