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Survivor Groups Fighting Proposed Sexual Assault Guidelines for Colleges

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Students, survivor organizations and women’s advocates slammed the changes proposed to Title IX guidelines on how schools and colleges respond to sexual assault. A press release by the National Women’s Law Center described the proposed rules as “blatant contempt for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, however, has said guidelines under the Obama administration shifted school and colleges too far in favor of accusers.

One in five female college students has experienced a sexual assault or an attempt, according to a 2007 National Institute of Justice survey.

“I think [the proposed rules] would make students not report. … It would make it harder for students to receive justice and continue in college,” said Venkayla Haynes, an organizer for Know Your IX, a youth- and survivor-led organization that seeks to end sexual and dating violence in schools.

Under the proposed rules, colleges would only have to investigate formal complaints about incidents on campus or in educational activities.

Haynes was raped the first month of her freshman year at Spelman College in Atlanta.

“My assault happened off campus five minutes away. It tells me that what happened to me does not matter,” she said.

The draft regulations would also:  

  • Redefine sexual assault. Labeled under the Obama administration as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” the definition would be changed to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.”
  • Allow the accused person to cross-examine the person reporting an assault. Survivors already experience suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, Haynes said. “[These policies] would heighten that,” she said.
  • Raise the standard of proof. Instead of looking at “preponderance of the evidence” to determine whether sexual misconduct occurred, schools and colleges could raise the standard to “clear and convincing evidence.”
  • Allow mediation, which was deemed inappropriate for sexual assault cases by the Obama administration.

Statistics show that 88 percent of sexual assault cases go unreported, said Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. “Schools will be able to ignore a lot of sexual harassment,” she said. “This will create a chilling effect.”

In contrast, in 2017, Education Department Deputy General Counsel Candice Jackson told the New York Times that many students have been branded rapists “when the facts just don’t back that up.” She dismissed most sexual assault on campus as drunken sex that a student regretted.

The public has 60 days to respond to the Education Department’s proposal.

Organizations such as Know Your IX, which is also active in high schools, and End Rape on Campus, are organizing protests and galvanizing students to respond to the Education Department during the comment period.

“There will be protests across the U.S.,” Haynes said.

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