Last year, we discussed the steps taken by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to roll back policies implemented under the Obama Administration to address the problem of sexual assault at America's colleges and universities. These changes were designed to provide more protection for those accused of assault, whether young children or college students.
DeVos called the policies of the previous administration "wholly un-American." She described the changes she was making a matter of "fundamental fairness."
The new guidelines implemented by the Department of Education (DOE) require that accusers present "clear and convincing evidence" of sexual assault. Previously, the standard of proof was a "preponderance of evidence." Further, mediation can now be used to settle these cases.
Three civil rights organizations are challenging Secretary DeVos, another DOE official, Candice Jackson, and the department itself in court over the new guidelines. Equal Rights Advocates, SurvJustice and the Victim Rights Law Center have filed a lawsuit, claiming that the policy changes violate federal law and perpetuate "discriminatory stereotypes" of women that they contend emanate "from the top of the Executive Branch,"
Examples of these stereotypes were voiced by Jackson last year when she claimed that 90 percent of sexual assault claims resulted from broken relationships. She has also publicly called the women who have accused President Trump of sexual harassment "fake victims."
The lawsuit contends that the DOE's actions assume that women make sexual assault allegations because of a "misunderstood a harmless romantic advance" or a "consensual sexual encounter" they later regret. The plaintiffs say the changes have had a "chilling effect" on the number of campus sexual assaults reported.
The changes have no doubt caused confusion on many college campuses here in Maryland and across the country, both for victims of assault and those who are facing sexual assault or other sex crime allegations. If you or a loved one has been accused of sexual assault, it's still essential that you take the matter seriously and seek experienced legal guidance.
Source: Huffington Post, "Betsy DeVos Sued For Weakening Sexual Assault Reporting Protections For Students," Mary Papenfuss, Jan. 27, 2018