“One in five women in college will be sexually assaulted.” That is a horrific statistic from the documentary on campus sexual assault, The Hunting Ground.
There is an epidemic of sexual violence against women and men in American institutions of higher education.
Some progress has been made, during the Obama Administration, by the Office of Civil Rights, in forcing college administrators to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct and stop perpetrators.
But according to Betsy DeVos in a speech today, that approach has “failed.” Instead, the Trump Administration’s controversial Secretary of Education just argued the real problem is that the Obama Administration “weaponized the Office for Civil Rights to work against schools and against students.”
Let’s see. Which schools might the Obama era Office for Civil Rights have been working against? Actually, those were the schools that were not complying adequately with Title IX requirements that campuses not discriminate. Sexual harassment and assault create a discriminatory and hostile environment and in the Obama era schools needed to change that or lose federal funding.
And let’s consider which students the Obama era Office for Civil Rights might “work against”? Perhaps DeVos meant to say ‘students who were accused perpetrators.’ The weight of DeVos’s remarks, even the bias, is toward making policy change to provide “fairness” to accused perpetrators. ‘Fairness,’ in this speech, functioned as code for ‘treat the accused perpetrator of rape or sexual harassment as another victim.’
This speech by DeVos was very emotionally charged. She went on about how awful campus sexual assault is, but observe below, in the direct quotation, the movement in her rhetoric from nearly tearful concern for victims to making sure accused perpetrators are included in a list of those who were ‘victimized’ by the Obama era Office of Civil Rights:
We know this much to be true: One rape is too many.
One assault is one too many.
One aggressive act of harassment is one too many.
One person denied due process is one too many. (Emphasis added)
What DeVos actually proposed in this speech was to make changes to policy that will make it more difficult to end campus sexual assault by raising the standard of proof for sexual assault or harassment.
She also invites her audience to a “reframing” of a “conversation.”
A better way begins with a re-framing. This conversation has too often been framed as a contest between men and women or the rights of sexual misconduct survivors and the due process rights of accused students. The reality is, however, a different picture. There are men and women, boys and girls, who are survivors, and there are men and women, boys and girls who are wrongfully accused.
It’s not a conversation. It’s an accusation of rape or sexual harassment that needs to be adjudicated and resolved with justice.
There is very little evidence that wrongful accusation is even a problem. In the Trump era, it is a made up problem in order to undercut the effective use of Title IX to force schools to systematically address the epidemic of sexual harassment on college campuses.
Rent and watch the documentary, “The Hunting Ground.”
The central narrative is the journey of two women, Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark, who go from being victims, to becoming survivors and then powerful national activists on campus rape.
Pino and Clark were students at the University of North Carolina when they were each raped. But it was the lack of action by administrators, and what must be seen as a culture of complicity at the school, that led them to file a Title IX complaint against UNC. Through their networking efforts and the courageous work of other campus activists, now 435 schools have been investigated under Title IX for the ‘hostile and intimidating environment’ created by campus rapes, and only 75 have been resolved.
That’s too much investigation of sexual assault for the Trump administration, clearly.
The DeVos era promises a return to the “Hunting Ground” environment on college campuses.
That is shameful and unacceptable and this sham of a “due process” concern must be named for what it is: protecting the perpetrators so they can do it again.
Don’t let it happen. Let the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights know about your concern.
And don’t let your daughter or son go to college without first watching “The Hunting Ground.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.