In 2011, the U. S. Department of Education issued some guidelines to colleges and universities requiring them to handle rape allegations swiftly and fairly. The problem was being taken seriously at last.
Now in 2017, Betsy DeVos claims that these guidelines have “weaponized the Office of Civil Rights.” Specifically, she maintains that enforcing women’s civil rights under Title IX is unfair to accused rapists. Her own acting head of Education’s civil rights office told the New York times that “90 percent” of campus rapes “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk’.” Of course, being drunk is no excuse if you injure or kill someone with your car.
We are going back to the Dark Ages when campus rape was dismissed as not a real problem and when women who reported being raped were accused of lying. Numerous studies consistently show two things: (1) that an overwhelming majority of rapes are never reported and (2) that false rape accusations are rare. However, our new Secretary of Education believes that the biggest problem is that young men accused of rape are being held to a standard that is too high.
Campus investigations of rape charges are not criminal proceedings. They are more like being fired from a job for sexual harassment. In a criminal trial guilt must be established “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a standard tilted toward the accused to prevent false convictions. But the 2011 federal guidelines require that the standard be a more neutral “preponderance of the evidence,” a legal standard for non-criminal cases.
Discipline can range from restricting the activities of the accused to suspension (perhaps for a semester) or expulsion. The accused is not entitled to legal representation or to the due process accorded to someone on trial for a criminal act just as an employee can be dismissed for sexual harassment without legal representation or legal due process.
Campuses do have a difficult task. They must have a procedure that both protects the victim and is fair to the accused. Given what Secretary DeVos and her subordinate have said on the record, fears that victim protections will be rolled back are well founded.
By Robin Davis, NC NOW VP of Legislation
Included in the 2017 Call To Conference Newsletter, on page 2.