Staff Column: Betsy Devos aims to make it harder for sexual assault victims to seek justice

In this Aug. 9, 2017 file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is interviewed in her office at the Education Department in Washington. Some University of Baltimore students are speaking out against DeVos, their scheduled fall commencement speaker. A crowd of students filed into a courtyard near the school on Monday, Sept. 11, holding protest signs that read “support public schools #neverDeVos” and “We are DeVos-stated.” (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Betsy Devos recently released a statement explaining her intentions of rescinding Obama’s 2011 Title IX sexual assault guidelines. Title IX aims to protect people from sexual discrimination in schools or other federally funded activities. In 2011, Obama’s administration put in place guidelines that lowered the standard of proof in assault cases, so that more victims could seek justice. 

Now, Devos seeks to roll back these guidelines, claiming she intends to “replace the current approach with a workable, effective and fair system." Devos openly criticized the current guidelines saying that a small offense can be blown out of proportion into a full Title IX investigation and, “if everything is harassment then nothing is.” She aims to make a stricter definition of sexual misconduct in order to weed out these “small” offenses. Essentially, she is trying to put a limit on a victim’s suffering and a definition on their pain.

Devos claimed that we need to amend these guidelines to make them more fair for a new class of victim: students who are wrongfully accused, denied fair hearings and punished. More and more people claim that false accusation of sexual assault is a huge issue but, if we take a close look at the facts, we realize this is not where the real problem lies.

Research on rape allegations has suggested that the rate of false accusations are between two and 10 percent. 

However, while the accepted definition of a false allegation is that there is concrete evidence showing that no crime had been committed, this definition is not standardized and is not followed by many police departments. Many identify a false allegation when there is delayed reporting, victim indifference, vagueness or if the victim refuses to provide details. Therefore, it becomes increasingly unclear if these sexual assault accusations are actually false or if the evidence to support them is just insubstantial.

The majority of sexual assaults are unreported; only one out of three cases are reported to the police. Survivors of sexual assault sometimes choose not to report because they fear retaliation, believe that police could not help them, feel that it is not important enough to report or do not want the perpetrator to have to pay for their crime. For victims of sexual assault, it takes a lot of support and bravery to seek justice. This, in itself, reflects a huge problem with victim blaming, belittling and a lack of societal and institutional support for victims of these crimes.

In her speech about Title IX, Devos claimed that she wants to make the system more fair to all parties, which in this case is those who may be wrongfully accused. However in many sexual assault cases the accused receive a minimal sentence, such as in the case of Brock Turner who got a six month sentence because he was young and the judge feared more time would have a severe impact on him. It is alarming that the concern is focused on the adverse effects the perpetrator will suffer rather than the victim. I wonder if the PTSD, thoughts of suicide and increased drug use, that is often seen in victims of sexual assault, will ruin his or her life? Is this what anyone would call a fair sentence or a fair system?

Not all victims are even able to get this small amount of justice, as 994 perpetrators out of every 1,000 rapes will go free. This is where the inequality of the system lies, not with the accused, but with the victims. Devos is suggesting to take even more aid away from the victims and hand it to the accused. If you take the Title IX guidelines away, then how many more perpetrators will walk free? What we need is more guidelines like those Obama put in place to further support victims of sexual assault, make them feel safe enough to come forward and give them the resources to seek justice.


Samantha Pierce is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at samantha.pierce@uconn.edu