Betsy Devos’ meetings over sex assault policies spark controversy
Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Following a series of meetings Thursday in Washington examining Title IX sexual assault procedures on college campuses, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reexamining guidance to schools.
In addition to survivors’ groups and educational institutions, DeVos met with “men’s rights” organizations, including the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), as well as groups that speak out on behalf of the accused, including Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE) and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE).
Though the secretary refused to say whether the administration wants to amend directives to colleges and universities, survivors’ advocates worry that DeVos’ engagement with these controversial groups — which opponents have dubbed insensitive to victims — signals a possible willingness to shift the process to the advantage of alleged perpetrators by rolling back Obama-era guidance directing schools to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof, rather than the higher “clear and convincing” standard, during Title IX sexual assault violence investigations.
“She’s meeting with groups and individuals today who believe that sexual assault is some sort of feminist plot to hurt men,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who joined other like-minded individuals gathered outside the Department clamoring to keep the focus on survivors.
Natalie Green, online communications coordinator with women’s right group UltraViolet, tells ABC News, “In all honesty, we think she should be listening to the survivors first and foremost, not rape apologists.”
And Annie Clark, executive director and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said, “The evidentiary standard in the criminal justice system is higher, and should be, than on campus because the penalties are different.”
Asked about the aforementioned concerns, DeVos told reporters at the Department of Education, “today was a time to listen.”
“No student should be the victim of sexual assault,” DeVos said. “No student should feel unsafe … and no students should feel like the scales are tipped against him or her.”
According to NCFM, FACE and SAVE, who all fight what they claim are false accusations, accused rapists should be afforded stronger due process by schools investing allegations of sexual violence. Though difficult to measure, researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts reported that their findings — published in the Journal of Violence Against Women — in conjunction with other studies, “indicate that the prevalence of false allegations is between 2 percent and 10 percent.”
“It was clear that their stories are not often told, and there are lives that have been ruined and lives that have been lost in the process,” DeVos said of these groups representing people they believe were wrongfully accused.
Jonathan Andrews — a 23-year-old SAVE and FACE volunteer who says he was falsely accused of rape by “homophobic fraternity brothers” after he himself was sexually assaulted — says the groups just want to ensure all involved get a fair shake.
“Victims for a long time weren’t taken seriously, and President Obama tried to correct that — but some of us think that he over-corrected, to the point where those who haven’t committed any crimes, like myself, are at a risk of losing their futures, losing their lives, and being destroyed, essentially,” Andrews told ABC News, bristling at “insulting” critiques of his organization as rape-apologist.
“A system without due process protections ultimately serves no one in the end,” DeVos said Thursday during a press conference at the Department of Education. “There are substantive legal questions to be addressed, including the evidentiary standard, due process, and lack of public input.”
Her meetings come as the Education Department’s civil rights chief, Candice Jackson, was forced to apologize for a controversial comment made to the New York Times in article published Wednesday.
The majority of sexual assault allegations — “90 percent,” according to Jackson — “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,” she told the Times.
“As a survivor of rape myself, I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience,” Jackson clarified in a statement provided to ABC News. “My words in the New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates. What I said was flippant, and I am sorry. All sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously.”
DeVos on Thursday declined to answer questions about whether she agreed with Jackson’s 90 percent comment.
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