During President Barack Obama’s administration, guidelines mandating how to address sexual assault allegations were implemented under Title IX, a federal law banning gender discrimination in schools receiving federal grants. However on Sept. 22, the U.S. Department of Education announced that these guidances, outlined in a “Dear Colleague” letter, would be rescinded as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos claimed it denied the guaranteed due process rights to those accused of committing sexual crimes.
Implemented in 2011 and reinforced in 2014, the “Dear Colleague” letter aimed to provide greater protection against rape and sexual harassment on college campuses. Under the guidance, schools had to use a standard of proof lower than the commonly used “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard when handling such cases.
The letter, however, was criticized for being more biased towards the accuser’s word than the accused. This lower standard of proof to punish the said perpetrator came in response to incomplete investigations of sexual assault complaints prior to 2011 when the guidance was introduced. However, this low baseline to determine guilt led some, including DeVos, to believe that it could lead to improper ruling against the accused.
“I still think that resolving the cases equitably is challenging,” Felder said. “Because it comes down to a he-said she-said type situation where one person says one thing and the other person says another thing and now somehow the university has to resolve this.”
At the same time, several believe that victims are more vulnerable and will not receive the proper fairness without the guidance. The Department of Education announced in September that the standard to proving the accused guilty would be raised from “preponderance of evidence,” or evidence that proves it is “more likely than not” to be correct, to a higher level of “clear and convincing evidence.”
“And yes, it’s bad if the [accused] ends up getting blamed for what they didn’t do, but I think the more common problem is that the victim doesn’t get justice”
“[The victims] aren’t getting enough support as they should get,” said Government teacher Jon Felder. “And yes, it’s bad if the [accused] ends up getting blamed for what they didn’t do, but I think the more common problem is that the victim doesn’t get justice.”
DeVos intends to ensure that the accused’s due process rights are not violated.
“I believe DeVos’s decision to rescind [the guidance] would have the opposite effect than intended,” said sophomore Franklin Lee. “I think the biggest thing is that victims should feel comfortable coming forward. If there’s a system where victims are intimidated about reporting what happened, then they’ll have a lot of sexual violence that becomes unreported, and I think that’s a bad outcome.”
Regardless, the issue of sexual assault still remains prevalent.
“Maybe sexual assault is on the rise on campuses, maybe not. It’s hard to say, but it’s a problem,” Felder said. “I think if anything, they would want to restrict [sexual assault] more and have messages out there that prevent it.”
Additional reporting by Ashley Tsang.