By Olivia Libowitz
Elm Staff Writer
According to a study by Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, there is one robbery for every two sexual assaults on college campuses. I’m sorry for starting off with a statistic; it’s hardly engaging, but my hope is that numbers sink in. I would start with an explanation of the dismal record of college campus sexual assault prevention, or a discussion of recent specific cases of this around our country, but it seems that that’s just not effective these days. You can’t even expect someone in charge of education to understand what an epidemic campus sexual assault is — at least, not when that someone is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
On Sept. 7, DeVos addressed George Mason University in Virginia and discussed her aims to disband many of the former President Barack Obama-era Title IX regulations. At Washington College, we take Title IX very seriously. We have individuals in Health Services, Counseling, and Public Safety who are trained in Title IX response, as well as a designated College Title IX Coordinator, and each year it’s discussed with incoming students during orientation. The policies implemented during the Obama administration are valued highly at WC, just as they are at many institutions around the country.
Title IX enforces stronger responses to sexual harassment claims, sexual assault response, and victim counseling. It changed the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “with a preponderance of evidence”—meaning instead of needing 100 percent surety to proceed with charges of sexual misconduct, one only needed 50 percent surety of the same accusations. This change was put into place due to what many people saw as an epidemic. One in four women is the well-known college statistic of sexual assault rates. 23.1 percent of women and 5.4 percent of men are sexually assaulted during their time at college, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted annually by the Justice Department. Not only does Title IX help to respond to and protect victims, it also protects the accused, who Title IX states will receive equal legal counsel to the victim. Title IX also addresses sexual harassment such as excluding students, professors, and faculty from organizations or employment based on gender, orientation, etc.
So why does DeVos want to get rid of it? There is a cynical theory and there is her explanation. The cynic’s theory is that Title IX is greatly supported by the liberal party. Obama put a lot of weight on it, and thereforere received backlash from the conservative party almost before it went into circulation. DeVos’s speech this past week was, in fact, given to the Federalist Society, which is made up almost entirely of conservatives and libertarians. However, we have to take DeVos’s reasoning into account. Some statements of hers rang out as reasonable. She said, “One rape is one too many. One assault is one too many. One aggressive act of harassment is one too many.” Other statements came out as callous. “If everything is harassment,” DeVos said, “then nothing is.”
Politely, Mrs. DeVos, no. If everything is harassment, then college campuses around the country are probably accidental breeding grounds of a persistent sexual harassment epidemic. The argument is, of course, that “boys are being boys” and that a false accusation could ruin their lives. This, howevever, continues to be false, as many rapists, even when accused, are handed preposterously short sentences and released back into the world. Not only that, but this narrative excludes male victims frequently.
This all is not to say that sexual assault responses on college campuses are perfect — they’re not. Sexual assault is usually a private crime with little to no evidence involved, which makes it incredibly hard to prosecute. It is difficult to figure out a sensible and just way to judge these cases. What is important now, what it seems DeVos is working to undo, is to trust the victim first, and go forward from there. We can’t live in a community where men’s reputations are more valuable than the safety of those around them.
It’s important to discuss this now— over 50 percent of college sexual assaults happen in the first three months of the school year, according to the same RAINN study. We can’t put this discussion off, and we can’t leave it in the hands of a woman who would rather we all be comfortably silent than face the discomforting reality.