United States Education Secretary Betsy Devos is amending the current policy for handling sexual assault on college campuses. Although still under review, the updated policy would change how the victim must approach reporting sexual assault as well as how the college administration would carry out the investigation.
This updated policy is a step backwards in society because it holds college administrations less accountable for sexual assault allegations and it removes resources and support for sexual assault victims.
A major amendment in the policy is the option for colleges to require “clear and convincing” evidence of assault, rather than the formerly sufficient “preponderance of the evidence,” according to The Atlantic. This amendment was proposed because due-process advocates were concerned that the latter was not enough to prove guilt.
Allowing colleges to choose a stricter standard for their evidence can discourage sexual assault victims to report their incidents. Though not impossible, it is very difficult to gather concrete evidence from sexual misconduct incidents, due to the nature of the crime as well as emotional barriers. Victims may choose to keep quiet rather than prolong their suffering through a laborious investigation.
In addition, the new policy no longer requires college administrations to investigate instances of sexual misconduct that take place off campus. This includes housing, fraternity houses and local businesses that are off-campus.
This alteration is unfavorable to the safety of collegiate students, of whom nearly 87 percent reside off-campus, according to The New York Times. One must also consider community colleges, where there are no dormitories on campus, potentially increasing the instances of sexual assault between students off-campus.
Western New England University Professor Erin Buzuvis asserts, “now a university could, without fear of liability from the courts or the government, drastically decrease its overall attention to sexual misconduct.” In a statement to The Atlantic, Buzuvis argues that change in policy will hold college administrations legally less accountable.
The new policy would also limit the amount of resources available to sexual assault victims. Prior to this alteration, victims could approach their residential advisor for assistance. With the new policy, however, the college would be required to investigate only if altercations are reported to designated “officials.”
According to The Atlantic, RAs, professors and other staff not designated will not be required to make a report and therefore, the administration will not be held liable for allegations reported to such people. It is currently unclear who will be appointed as designated “officials.” Reporting sexual misconduct is already a daunting action without having to open up to a designated “official” who may be unfamiliar with the victim.
Our nation should expand resources for sexual assault victims, not decrease them. One can predict that this amendment to the policy will discourage many victims who might have sought out a friendly RA or professor for help, since they are not legally required to contact the administration to begin an investigation.
Considerably the most inappropriate change in policy is the opportunity for the accused to cross-examine the accuser. Manager of non-profit organization Know Your IX Sage Carson argues that the victim will be made uncomfortable in this situation in fear of the power the abuser has over them, according to The Atlantic.
In a study conducted by the FBI, only 8 percent of sexual misconduct allegations are false. The U.S. should therefore increase support for sexual assault victims and increase college administrations’ liability for sexual misconduct allegations. Devos’ change in policy nourishes a culture that silences sexual assault victims and does not take allegations as seriously as they should be.