The recent dialogue that has surrounded sexual assault on college campuses has recklessly watered down the victims of these crimes to mere statistics and percentages, often inadvertently deviating the conversation away from how to punish the guilty by forcing the already shame-filled spotlight back onto the victim. And what’s more confounding is the government's role in the situation as Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, has announced plans to change how Title IX is enforced on college campuses.
Title IX, the gender equity law that was enacted in 1972, guarantees anyone and everyone the right to an equal and fair education. According to their guidelines, it is required to hold anyone accountable who violates this law through contributing to a hostile environment and allows the government the power to revoke federal funds if a school is found in violation of the law.
In April 4, 2011 President Barack Obama issued the “Dear Colleague Letter,” which was a more recent addition to the guidelines that “told all of the more than 7,000 colleges that receive federal money to use the lowest possible standard of proof, a preponderance of evidence, in sexual assault cases,” according to The Washington Post. These regulations set in place by the Obama Administration would ensure victims of campus sexual assault were of the utmost priority to their universities.
However, on September 7, 2017, United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos announced her plans to roll-back these guidelines and implement what she claims to be, “a system that will treat all students fairly.”
Under the new Title IX that DeVos envisions, victims of sexual assault will no longer be able to use the lowest possible standard of proof model, but be forced to present a, “clear and convincing standard” of proof. This means those accusing someone of sexual assault will have to produce even more evidence of their alleged attack of their non-consensual sexual encounter, which can be virtually impossible. While these new guidelines carry no legal or federal ramifications, it is at the university’s discretion to issue discipline based on the outcome of the case — and experts are worried about what it will be mean for victims and survivors attempting to get justice (or even just continuing to pursue their educations.)
“Many people within the education system believe that by changing the standard of evidence required it will make it much more difficult for women to come forward," Sexual health educator, Wendy Strgar told Her Campus. "In addition, the other proposal of requiring a mediation between the attacker and victim would be impossible for most young women who have experienced sexual assault. Also noteworthy is that this new regulation only muddies the water: It does not help universities to be clear about policies concerning this very troubling trend.”
While the trend is showing no sign of slowing down, many questions as to why universities are even allowed to play a role in these cases have been raised.
Victims of campus sexual assault have the freedom to report to local law enforcement, “However, rape and other forms of gender-based violence can make it hard to show up to class and learn, and federal anti-discrimination law recognizes that," Gender equality legal resource group KnowYourIX.org explains on their website. "To make sure that all students, regardless of their gender identity and expression, have equal access to education, schools are required to prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence."
That's why the problem continues to come right back to Title IX and right back onto college campuses — though it has a mixed response from students.
Grant Olson, an alumni of The King’s College, told Her Campus that he "think[s] the idea that something this serious can be adjudicated by an educational institution is a worrisome proposition. Anything that's a legal felony should be handled by police, not a college board.”
However, a former student at Campbell University (who has requested to remain anonymous), said she witnessed sexual harassment first-hand and quickly discovered universities have to protect themselves.
“I have found that colleges and universities are not unbiased,' she told Her Campus, "and believe that third parties, (legal) are necessary in a money, power, and recognition-based environment to ensure protection of the vulnerable because the institution is not motivated to protect anyone but themselves, as all human beings are by nature.”
While universities clearly have an extensive problem at hand, the data shows that consensual sex on college campuses is becoming harder to define for students.
Strgar recently conducted a survey of 188 college students and found that, of all the participants, 35 percent of the female students have engaged in a non-consensual sexual experience. Meanwhile over half of all participants said they found it awkward to verbally give a green light and/or tell their partner to stop. For those students, the issue is that more troubling and more difficult to address because students are feeling unclear about enthusiastic consent and are uncomfortable speaking up.
So what does this mean for you and your school?
You’re safe. Title IX is still in place and you are protected under these rights. KnowYourIX.org reports, “Schools receiving federal funds still must identify Title IX coordinators, publish a nondiscrimination policy, adopt grievance procedures, and investigate complaints.”
While NBC News reports, “Campuses will be allowed to determine whether to implement the new evidence standard.” So schools still have some level of control to ensure that victims of sexual assault are still protected, but the future for campus sexual assault survivors hangs in the balance as we wait to see if DeVos implements any other new reforms or regulations on top of what she has already done. However, the uncertainty could still be creating more fear for victims and more freedom for predators.
“Like so many other aspects of our governance, citizens are increasingly being demanded to make their own justice. I believe that this regulation will be deeply damaging to the efforts that have just begun to be established into policy at many universities," Strgar said. "Although what is really required is a whole new level of education at younger ages, creating a deterrence as the current policies do is the best we have. We see how it has empowered youg women to overcome their fear to speak out, which needs to keep growing. “