Written by Devon Mitchell
In May the US Department of Education released new regulations on how to handle sexual assault on campuses under Title IX. The update to Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded institutions in order to balance the “scales of justice”.
Essentially, the new regulations ensure due process for both students accused of sexual misconduct and students who report it. This means both parties are innocent until proven guilty. Institutions are required to hold live hearings and allow for parties and witnesses to be cross-examined. Colleges were expected to adopt the new regulations by August 14th.
Guidance given by the Obama Administration back in 2011 and 2014 were given harsh criticisms. Some individuals felt like the Obama Administration encouraged colleges to over-enforce Title IX violations concerning sexual misconduct, leading to students being removed from campus unjustly. Post-2011, there were a great number of civil lawsuits, mostly filed by male students accused of sexual misconduct, stating their rights were violated. The Obama Administration advised colleges and universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence”, which means all parties must present evidence and a decision will be made based on who has more credible and convincing evidence. Now, under the Trump Administration colleges are advised to use “preponderance of evidence” or the “clear and convincing” standard which means evidence must be highly probable and provable.
Although the new regulations from the Trump Administration may help the accused, it has the potential of seriously hurting the accuser. Sexual misconduct of any kind can be extremely traumatizing to those affected and reliving it publicly and under so much scrutiny can add to the trauma. Supporters of victims of sexual misconduct on campuses argue that this may hinder students from coming forth and reporting their stories.
Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos said on Twitter that the rule, “balances the scales”. The new regulations by the Trump Administration was made to bring more equality into cases and be more fair to the accuser. In a statement the White House said colleges and universities, “often stacked the deck against the accused.”
Sexual misconduct is a tricky subject, especially when debated in court. It is both hard to prove and disprove when it is one person’s word against another’s. Title IX violations are more than just who is right and who is wrong. It starts a conversation about how society tolerates and treats the accused and accuser. Perhaps the conversation that needs to be had is what standards are relayed to children that encourage them to partake in this kind of activity or decide not to come forward later in life. It is an issue that is unfortunately faced every day. Moving forward, college communities need to continue the discussion on how to foster a safer and more inclusive environment.