In what just might be the most nonsensical and heartless move of the United States Department of Education to date, Secretary Betsy DeVos has ended Obama's campus sexual assault guidelines, and revealed how she intends to deal with the problem. Spoiler alert: she's not that into protecting victims. At least, not as much as the previous administration. A new "Dear Colleague" letter, officially authored by the department's Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson officially rescinds the old guidelines and puts in place an alternative strategy.
The Obama-era guidelines came in the form of such a letter: 19 pages of clear and consistent policy outlining the responsibility of schools to adhere to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs. Sexual violence and sexual harassment are forms of discrimination, that letter stated, and as such, schools are required to do all they can to prevent it. In short, schools were instructed not to allow rape. That's all. The very idea that anyone could find such guidance controversial is simply astounding, but unfortunately, being obscenely out of touch with students' needs seems par for the course with DeVos, so we really shouldn't be too shocked.
The original guidance stated that if a school "knows or reasonably should know" about an incident of sexual violence or harassment, it's required to take action immediately to rectify the issue. It also barred certain practices such as discouraging the victim from filing a report with law enforcement, neglecting to investigate an incident until a criminal investigation was concluded, and discouraged inappropriate and harmful tactics for addressing sexual violence and harassment cases, such as mediation or allowing alleged victims to be cross-examined directly by the alleged perpetrator. It was supported by nearly 50 pages of "Questions and Answers" published a couple of weeks later. It couldn't be more straightforward.
The new letter officially rescinded both the 2011 letter and the accompanying Q&A document, which it characterized as "a confusing and counterproductive set of regulatory mandates." DeVos and company apparently took issue with the preponderance of evidence standard, by which schools must determine that a crime "more likely than not" occurred, rather than a stricter standard usually reserved for criminal law. The new administration is also in favor of mediation and cross-examination between accused rapists and their victims, and finds it discriminatory that victims are allowed to appeal not-guilty findings.
But why? What possible reason could one have for making it harder for victimized students to seek justice? It seems that DeVos may have gotten some of her ideas from a series of meetings she took in July, with "men's rights" organizations such as the National Coalition for Men, a group best known for filing nuisance lawsuits targeting women's business networking events and self-defense classes before it graduated to doxxing rape survivors. She also met with Families Advocating for Campus Equality, a mostly-anonymous group of anti-feminist women who have raised accused rapists, and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, a group that promotes the absolutely batsh*t claim that up to 90 percent of rape accusations are false.
The new guidance put forth by the Department of Education will allow mediation and cross-examination of victims by the accused, encourages a stricter "clear and convincing evidence standard" (meaning schools must prove that it's "highly probable or reasonably certain" that an incident occurred), and will allow schools to choose if victims have the ability to appeal a ruling or not. Further policy will be developed "through a rulemaking process that responds to public comment," according to the letter. Ready, public? Get out there and comment.