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Survivor slams DeVos campus sexual abuse rules

Survivor and executive director of "End Rape on Campus" Jess Davidson said the new definition of sexual harassment under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's new sexual abuse on campus rules would force survivors to put their education second and lead to less reporting.

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 3:10 AM
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 3:28 AM

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has issued a new set of proposed rules on Title IX regarding the responsibilities of primary and secondary schools, as well as universities, to address sexual assault and harassment.

The rules, issued Friday, would make schools less safe by narrowing the definition for what counts as sexual misconduct, creating barriers for students to report these incidents and limiting the responsibility of schools to respond.

DeVos speaks of of her concern for sexual assault survivors, but her words ring hollow. These proposed rules illustrate that her driving concern is not that less than 10% of college students report the sexual assault and harassment they experience. It's not that school administrators are not getting those reports to know what's happening on campus and prevent further violence. It's not that students are routinely subject to sexual assault and harassment by fellow students online or at bars or fraternities. And it's not the extraordinary and lifelong pain and trauma that children experience when they are raped or harassed.

None of that is what prompted DeVos to take a full-scale detour from decades of well-reasoned law and practice and upend long-established definitions of sexual harassment. Instead, she relies on myths that she is intent on perpetuating in federal policy.

Here are three of her favorites.

1. "Too many cases involve students and faculty who have faced investigation and punishment simply for speaking their minds or teaching their classes," DeVos said in a 2017 speech as she decried a failed system that did not serve survivors, accused students or educational institutions.

Without mention of a single such case, DeVos decided that it's freedom of speech and expression that needs protecting over the thousands of students who have been sexually harassed and assaulted -- and despite the fact that sexual violence is not a protected form of expression.

By narrowing the long-standing definition of sexual harassment -- "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" -- to include only behavior that is "severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive," she suggests that a 14-year-old student who feels uncomfortable due to suggestive comments by her teacher is not being harassed. These changes discourage young people who have endured sexual harassment from coming forward -- all to protect a mythical someone, somewhere, who didn't feel comfortable making a provocative comment in class.

2. What happens off campus stays off campus: DeVos' proposed rules suggest the only acts of violence that impact whether students feel safe and comfortable at school happen in classrooms, hallways or school events. Under her rules, schools may not be responsible for responding to incidents of assault or harassment that take place online or at bars, fraternities, off-campus apartments or away games.

So a school could dismiss a request for a change in class schedule from a seventh-grade student who is being sexually harassed online by her classmates. Or a college student who is sexually assaulted by a classmate at an off-campus apartment or campus bar might also have his complaint summarily dismissed by the school.

3. DeVos believes the greatest harm perpetrated in the campus sexual assault process is to the reputation and rights of the accused.

First, despite the attention paid to the Duke lacrosse case and the retracted Rolling Stone story about the University of Virginia, false accusations are rare. One out of 10 campus sexual assaults are reported, and generally only 2-10% of reports of sexual assault may be false, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

The number of false reports is miniscule in comparison to the more than 18% of all women who are sexually assaulted on campus and do not report it (and also the men, who are statistically more likely to face assault themselves than false allegations).

Regardless, DeVos has taken numerous steps to protect the accused and burden survivors. By narrowing the definition of sexual harassment and where it triggers school responsibility, she gives perpetrators latitude to engage in sexual misconduct, as long as it takes place off campus or is not both severe and pervasive.

She is pushing schools to adopt standards that make it harder for survivors to prove that they have been sexually assaulted, requiring schools to allow retraumatizing and unnecessary hurdles to be imposed on survivors (such as cross-examination at a live hearing) and telling schools that the accused must be believed throughout the grievance process -- unless the survivor demonstrates otherwise by clear and convincing evidence.

Secretary DeVos's mythical world is backwards. She has set up a rigged game of Chutes and Ladders, where those who are sexually assaulted constantly end up on a chute, and the accused constantly end up with a ladder.

Her proposed rules will soon be open for public notice and comment. It's up to us to dispel these myths, share our experiences and right the course to keep all students safe.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 789054

Reported Deaths: 14022
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1115991765
Mobile708511234
Madison49865633
Shelby36274315
Baldwin36242495
Tuscaloosa33931548
Montgomery33190678
Lee22680220
Calhoun21211410
Morgan19816335
Etowah19300462
Marshall17680274
Houston16823386
St. Clair15442305
Cullman14602258
Limestone14581188
Elmore14480264
Lauderdale13520281
Talladega12958236
DeKalb12199237
Walker10588330
Blount9720157
Autauga9667137
Jackson9385158
Coffee8882175
Dale8609173
Colbert8534184
Tallapoosa6673181
Escambia6591121
Covington6452167
Chilton6385144
Russell607255
Franklin5795101
Chambers5416134
Marion4800120
Dallas4705189
Clarke463279
Pike462397
Geneva4413117
Winston425895
Lawrence4117108
Bibb409381
Barbour347270
Marengo326285
Monroe320053
Butler318290
Randolph305956
Pickens305274
Henry301858
Hale292685
Cherokee289855
Fayette279673
Washington245448
Crenshaw238470
Cleburne235851
Clay228565
Macon220158
Lamar197743
Conecuh182046
Lowndes170758
Coosa170235
Wilcox159736
Bullock149243
Perry136537
Sumter124536
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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