By Sara McDonald
Since becoming secretary of education, Betsy DeVos has proposed several controversial changes. But her rollback of Obama-era rules that regulate how colleges and universities investigate sexual assault allegations was another contentious chapter in her tenure.
The decision left many women’s rights groups worried that the survivors of sexual assault would lose protections or face intimidations to remain silent.
The new guidance gives schools more flexibility for the standard of evidence used to investigate these cases.
This is bad for students and victims and will take colleges 10 steps backward, hindering victims from coming forward.
I reached out to four people who either work to battle “rape culture” or could be directly affected by the new changes. I wanted to see if these people, who have spent their careers advocating for victims, supported the changes. I also wanted to know what our student leaders thought.
Theresa Lancaster, lawyer and sexual assault victim advocate featured on the Netflix documentary “The Keepers”
“What (DeVos) is doing it is not pro-school. It’s taking rape culture back 20, 30 maybe even 40 years.
“Women have to feel like they can come forward. (When I came forward), I had church people hollering at me, trying to pick apart my story. They kept trying to put the blame on me.
“It has got to stop. Betsy DeVos has seemed to want to turn back the clock, but we have to fight against that. Young girls need to know they won’t be raked over the coals. They need to be supported. This is doing the complete opposite.”
Rod Roberts, director of “Written On My Skin,” and advocate for sexual assault victims
“One hundred thousand students a year suffer from this. What are the universities doing about it? On average only two are falsely accused out of 1000 … The easiest way to fight her on this issue is to come forward.
“Make sure your voice is heard for the next person. If you haven’t come forward, please come forward … Just because (DeVos) is saying she is going to put a wall in front of you, find some girls who have gone through this like you, and you all take a hammer and break that wall down.
“You’re still living with it. He may be a repeat offender, and you have to live with that end of it as well. You might as well live with it that you tried your hardest to fight it. People will stand with you and say I got it, I got your back. She’s banking on people being silent. Don’t give into that.”
Rebecca Guthrie, a senior majoring in criminology
“Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law, this includes the individuals that were attacked.
“With the changes that are being made regarding Title IX, it feels more like the only person whose rights we are concerned with protecting are the perpetrators of these crimes.
“There is this stigma regarding these crimes that the victim in some way contributed to their attack. That simply is inaccurate. One in five women are raped while they are in college, and the Obama-era guidelines allowed victims to feel that they had some sense of power regarding what happens afterward.
“DeVos is changing all of that. I believe all this will do is stop more victims from coming forward. We’ve tried it this way before, and we know (victims) won’t speak up, (so) why would we change it back?
“We handle all other crimes (by punishing) accordingly without questioning due process like assaults, vandalism, and possession of a firearm on public properties, why should sexual misconduct be different?”
David Thompson, student body president
“Student Government’s role is to help create an environment where people feel comfortable disclosing sexual misconduct. Regardless what DeVos says or any of these guidelines … If someone is assaulted, they can come forward.
“In the spring we are going to continue with the “It’s on us” campaign. It is something that is very important to me, regardless of any changes with DeVos.”
Header photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore