The Trump administration has issued final guidelines that will significantly affect the way sexual assault allegations are handled on college campuses across the nation moving forward.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the changes last week, calling it historic action to strengthen Title IX protections for survivors of sexual misconduct and to restore due process in campus proceedings.
“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”
The new regulations, which take effect Aug. 14, include defining sexual harassment, including sexual assault, as unlawful sex discrimination and holding colleges responsible for off-campus sexual harassment at houses owned or under the control of school-sanctioned fraternities and sororities.
It will also restore fairness on college and university campuses by upholding all students’ right to written notice of allegations, the right to an adviser, and the right to submit, cross-examine and challenge evidence at a live hearing, according to the Department of Education.
“We released a final rule that recognizes we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence and due process,” DeVos said in a call with reporters.
The department has been criticized for the new guidelines that opponents say largely roll back policies from the Obama administration. DeVos has said the former president’s policies were a “failed approach” that turned campus disciplinary panels into “kangaroo courts.”
Know Your IX, a Title IX advocacy group, said DeVos’ final rule guts survivors’ rights and tips the scales of school sexual misconduct cases in favor of perpetrators and schools that wish to “sweep sexual violence under the rug.”
“The final rule makes it harder for survivors to report sexual violence, reduces schools’ liability for ignoring or covering up sexual harassment, and creates a biased reporting process that favors respondents and schools over survivors’ access to education,” said Sage Carson, manager of Know Your IX. “All this as students struggle to find housing, keep up with online classes, and pay rent as the unemployment rate soars. What these students need is support, not another attack from DeVos and Trump.”
Other groups like the National Women’s Law Center say they plan to take legal action.
“We refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the group’s president and CEO. “We won’t let DeVos succeed in requiring schools to be complicit in harassment, turning Title IX from a law that protects all students into a law that protects abusers and harassers.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who also opposes the new guidelines, said the federal government should not set up women to be re-traumatized when reporting an assault.
“One in five female undergraduate students experience a sexual assault in college. One in five,” Cardin said. “It is astounding that after receiving more than 124,000 public comments deriding the proposed rule … Betsy DeVos has continued her singular focus to weaken the rights of victims and minimize the responsibility of colleges for actions that take place on their campus.”