Rodenbaugh: DeVos again perpetuates ‘victim blaming’ mentality with revisit of Title IX policy

Mikaela Rodenbaugh

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board. This column was originally published on July 21, 2017, but is being published again with additional updates due to more actions by Betsy DeVos regarding the Title IX policy addressing sexual assault on campus. Read the original column here.

Once again, Betsy DeVos is in the spotlight for her controversial stance on Title IX sexual assault policies on campus, where she framed those falsely accused of sex crimes as the real victims of campus policies addressing this epidemic of sexual violence.

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In light of her decision to take Title IX funding from universities to combat sexual assault it’s clear why many people are up in arms.

During the Obama administration, the federal government and universities that receive Title IX funding have partnered in an effort to combat sexual violence on campuses, which are often hotbeds of misconduct when it comes to assault and other sex crimes. So why did DeVos have a change of heart?

Well for one thing, advisers close to the education secretary have cited alarming numbers: claiming that the number of ambiguous ‘we were both drunk’ cases ruining young men’s lives are the vast majority of cases reported on campus. At least that’s what Candice E. Jackson, the top civil rights official at the Department of Education said in an interview on the new plans.

Yes, we are talking about young men’s lives, as those are the only victims it seems that DeVos and Jackson are eager to protect in her recent decision making.

Currently, at the college level, our nation is embroiled in many high-profile sexual assault cases, but to say that 90 percent of these cases are the result of two drunk students where nobody is the victim is just factually incorrect. While Jackson later apologized for her untrue remarks, the damage is already done if DeVos still does not see the shaky basis of her thinking.

Taking away funding from universities to address the rising issues of sexual violence in an effort to placate outskirts groups of falsely accused men is like taking one step forward and three steps back.

In her most recent remarks, DeVos seems to minimize victims, with statements such as “But if everything is harassment, then nothing is,” and “There are men and women, boys and girls, who are survivors, and there are men and women, boys and girls who are wrongfully accused.”

In both of these examples, DeVos misses the mark by framing victims of sexual assault and victims of false accusation as on equal footing in terms of likelihood of being victimized by Title IX as a system to address sexual assault on campus.

Studies show that false accusations are quite rare, amounting to only between two to eight percent of cases. At a time when actual victims are often mistreated and blamed, it is an outrage that this administration would give greater priority to these groups as victims.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols, or a weak understanding of sexual assault.”

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Perhaps it’s the semantics here, however it seems the greatest culprit of this new thinking on policy from our administration absolutely stems from a weak understanding of sexual assault. You need only look towards the fountain of Trump supporters and surrogates who tried to change the definition of sexual assault after then presidential candidate Trump was implicated in this crime in the leaked Trump tape.

The problem with DeVos’ thinking here is her inability to see the forest for the trees. Throughout her discussion on Title IX and the “Dear Colleague” letter, she has framed victims of sexual assault and victims of false accusation as if they are on an even playing field, when in reality the phenomenon of false accusations is rare.

Of course there are groups of people wrongfully accused of sexual assault. There are also people wrongfully accused of murder in the prison system. That does not mean we should take away funding resources to arrest those who are accused of murder. However, that’s exactly what the administration is doing to victims of sexual assault on campus, it is taking away their resources because of a statistically insignificant number of case mishandlings.

There are no perfect systems. The problem with these recent actions by DeVos to address the issue of needing more due process in Title IX processing was completely mishandled when the administration decided to step away from this resource entirely. Effectively, recent policy is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

If this administration truly cared about helping victims, as DeVos repeatedly asserted in her remarks, they would focus on reforming the system of Title IX, rather than abandoning it.

Instead, DeVos and the Trump administration are leaving victims of sex crimes without previous resources available to them to find help. It’s the worst possible message we could be sending to victims of sexual violence—“We hear you, but you’re probably lying half the time anyway.”

Digital Production Manager Mikaela Rodenbaugh can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter at @mikarodenbaugh.