DeVos issues new sexual assault guidelines

Secretary of Education says new rules will help ensure fairness for both parties

Claire Gilliland and Lily Tran

Sexual assault has always been an action with complex consequences — and when it occurs on high school and college campuses, sexual assault becomes particularly troublesome. Due to the severity and frequency of these cases, legislation that governs how these cases are handled is vital.

Colleges used to abide by the processes and rules laid out by the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which primarily focused on protecting the victim or accuser of sexual assault. Although this letter includes language that necessitates due process for the accused, it also says that this due process may not interfere with the victims’ protections. Opponents argue that, in practice, the accused are not really given the right of due process.

“Public and state-supported schools must provide due process to the alleged perpetrator,” Obama’s Dear Colleague letter said. “However, schools should ensure that steps taken to accord due process rights to the alleged perpetrator do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the Title IX protections for the complainant.”

“Students accused of sexual misconduct could be severely punished based on a mere ‘preponderance of evidence,’” the editorial board of “The Wall Street Journal” argued in its criticism of the letter.

Also pertinent is the pressure that the “Colleague” letter placed on public school campuses; the Office for Civil Rights threatened to take away schools’ funding if they failed to comply.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has decided to adjust or even replace the policy that was set up during Obama’s administration. DeVos wishes to tighten the protection and rights for the accused in cases of campus sexual assault or harassment.

“DeVos offered a full-throated defense of due process, asserting that ‘every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously’ but ‘every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,’” CNN writer Cathy Young said in an article entitled “Betsy DeVos is Right About Campus Sexual Assault.”

Some students agree that DeVos’ change is making moves in the right directions.

“Sexual assault and rape cases are so hard because it’s such a serious accusation, so if it is true, the accused deserves nothing but the worst, but there are cases of false accusations,” senior Chloe Johnson said.

“I know of a person who was [falsely] accused of rape,” junior Cade Campigli said. “Both people were drunk but the girl accused the guy, so I feel like the accused should get more rights.”

They do see some negative effects that DeVos’ policy may have, as well.

“To give the accused even the small amount of rights that she’s trying to give them does contribute to rape culture and does kind of make excuses,” Johnson said.

“I feel Betsy DeVos’s change … can help the individual harassing instead of the individual being harassed,” senior Rianna Garza-Aguirre said. “But I can also see different points of view, too. The individual being harassed could be faking.”

Ultimately, however, many believe that a balance between Obama’s and DeVos’ solutions would be best.

“You want to protect someone who’s gone through something like that because rape can be very emotional and sexual assault is very emotional for the victim, but you also have to look at the possibility that the victim is falsely accusing,” Campigli said.
Regardless, many believe, like Obama’s letter outlined, that victims should, first and foremost, be protected and their rights should be ensured.

Some students on the Bear Creek campus are no strangers to sexual misconduct.

“He asked me if I wanted to have sex with him behind the bleachers,” senior Nicole Vasquez said about her experience with sexual harassment. “Our teacher put on a movie [and] he started to slide his hand up my leg. I [said], ‘Stop, what are you doing?’… then he did it again.”

“It was by another student [in] our freshman year,” Garza-Aguirre said of Vasquez’s experience. “After that, [Vasquez] told her parents and told the principal and actually got him suspended.”

With the district’s new 2017 behavior intervention matrix, the disciplinary consequence for level one sexual harassment, which includes sexually offensive and/or degrading comments, is intervention such as peer mediation. The disciplinary consequence for level two sexual harassment, which includes offensive, embarrassing or uncomfortable touching, is parent consultation, intervention such as conflict mediation, and an optional one-to-three day suspension.

“I expected [administration] to put him in a different English class [to] make things more comfortable for me,” Vasquez said. “I obviously didn’t want to see him every day in class, in the hallways, even at lunch. When I was 15, it was a big deal… it is really traumatic to be in a class with [your sexual harasser] every single day.”

Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter addressed this concern.

“If the perpetrator will be returning to school after a few days or weeks, or remaining in the complainant’s classes or residence hall, the complainant may want to transfer schools or change classes to avoid contact,” the letter said.

In cases such as Vasquez’s, stronger policies in place to protect the victims can prove crucial in terms of whether or not they will come forward with their case.

“Everyone should have a fair trial, [because] there are people out there [falsely] accusing people of [rape and sexual harassment],” Vasquez said. “[However], it makes women or even men that are actually raped or sexually assaulted [less willing] to speak up and actually be taken seriously.”