Betsy DeVos reverses Obama-era policy on campus assault

Donald Trump's education secretary has just made it harder for victims of campus sexual assault to seek justice

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published September 22, 2017 3:53PM (EDT)

Betsy DeVos   (Getty/Mike Theiler/AP/Jacquelyn Martin/Photo montage by Salon)
Betsy DeVos (Getty/Mike Theiler/AP/Jacquelyn Martin/Photo montage by Salon)

Perhaps it's not surprising that President Donald Trump, who infamously bragged about how he likes to "just start kissing" women and "grab ’em by the pussy," has chosen a Secretary of Education who would weaken Title IX protections for students who are victimized by sexual assault on campus.

Either way, that is what happened today.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has withdrawn the "dear colleague" letter submitted by President Barack Obama's administration that strengthened Title IX protections, according to CNN. A statement released by the Department of Education explained that "the withdrawn documents ignored notice and comment requirements, created a system that lacked basic elements of due process and failed to ensure fundamental fairness."

DeVos elaborated on this position in a press release which explained that "this interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly. Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes."

Lawyer Michael Dolce, who specializes in sexual abuse cases and has drawn from his own experience as an abuse survivor, strongly disagrees that this is a good thing.

"Big picture: It sends a message that all the specific guidance that universities and colleges have received over the past decade can be disregarded in favor of a 7-page boilerplate piece of rather useless information," Dolce told Salon. "The prior requirements no longer apply and that's very dangerous. Those requirements were established to maintain the safety of students, and now DeVos's decision invites the universities to adopt a standard of higher proof that is the equivalent of a criminal investigation. They don't have the resources or the expertise to handle that."

Dolce also argued that the concerns about maintaining due process for those accused is overblown.

"I think this is using a sledgehammer to kill an ant," Dolce told Salon. "Anyone who is accused of such a heinous crime is of course entitled to due process, but what we have is a serious problem with underreporting of sex crimes on college campuses. The false report rate is not particularly high and there is not a rash of false claim cases. Why would we want to endanger tens of thousands of students because of a handful of people who have had due process issues?"

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Betsy Devos Campus Sexual Assault Donald Trump Feminism Title Ix Women's Rights