campus sexual assault

Betsy Devos Is Moving Forward With Her Plan to Protect Students Accused of Sexual Assault

Betsy DeVos.
Betsy DeVos. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is preparing new rules that would favor those accused of sexual misconduct on campus, the New York Times reports.

According to documents obtained by the Times, DeVos will soon propose rules that provide more support to students accused of rape, harassment, or assault on campuses across the country. Under the proposed rules, schools would only be liable for handling harassment cases if formal complaints are submitted, and higher legal standards would be set to determine whether schools properly handed those complaints.

The news comes nearly one year after DeVos announced that she would be rescinding Obama-era Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault. Under the Obama administration’s guidance, college administrators were instructed to look for a “preponderance of evidence” in such cases. That means school officials had to decide if they were more than 50 percent certain of someone’s guilt — a standard that’s far lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of criminal courts, though still well-established in civil cases.

Men’s-rights activists argued that Obama’s Title IX guidance’s lower standards deprived the accused of “due process,” and DeVos echoed that statement — saying in a speech last year that she felt the rule was unfair toward students accused of sexual misconduct. Temporary guidelines, which drew on less stringent guidance issued in 2001, were then reinstated.

Now, DeVos will soon propose new rules that will “preserve much of the law that protects against sex discrimination” (Title IX), the Times reports. However, there will also be significant changes, including narrowing the definition of what constitutes harassment on campus and codifying in law, for the first time, how schools should address misconduct. Per the Times:

The rules also maintain Ms. DeVos’ year-old policy of using mediation to reach informal resolutions, and would add the ability for victims and their accused perpetrators to request evidence from each other and to cross-examine each other. The rules also allow the complainant and the accused to have access to any evidence obtained during the investigation, even if there are no plans to use it to prove the conduct occurred.

Also under the new rules, schools will also only be responsible for investigating alleged misconduct that has been reported to have taken place on their campuses or in their programs — and not incidents that occurred off-campus (such as the case of former Stanford student Brock Turner, who was convicted of raping a woman off-campus). The Times notes that the rules will also state that investigations must be done under the presumption that the accused is considered innocent (until proven guilty).

Betsy DeVos’s New Rules to Favor Students Accused of Assault