DeVos missed the point with Title IX

Evidence against the accused is not what needs to be changed

By on October 3, 2017

Erin Kane | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
Recent Title IX changes proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have people across the nation concerned as to how the lives of sexual assault victims and other forms of Title IX violations will be affected.

Title IX, in short, is a law that protects all people on the basis of gender from discrimination in any education program or federal financial assistance in public and private universities. What does this mean for universities? They are required to ensure that nothing interferes with a student’s right to a safe educational experience and if they fail to do so, their federal funding is at stake.

The impact that this law has specifically insures that both men and women have equal opportunity to athletic opportunities, protection for transgender students and protection for those who encounter sexual or domestic violence.

Domestic/sexual violence has been on the rise in recent years, which called for change in 2011. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a letter known as “Dear Colleague,” which states that “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” In other words, it is the university’s role to take action and end any instances of sexual and domestic violence to protect the education rights of its students. That being said, Title IX allows universities to conduct formal investigations of any potential violations.

On Sept. 22, DeVos announced “changes to the standard of evidence by which accused students are found guilty” in Title IX cases investigated through colleges, according to The Daily Beast. As determined by “Dear Colleague” in 2011, universities have been required to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard in Title IX cases, meaning that it must seem more likely than not that the accused student has made a Title IX violation in order to be found guilty of a sexual or domestic violence-related misconduct. However, DeVos introduced the “clear and convincing” standard, which pushes the university to collect more evidence that an accused student had committed the act to essentially have no doubt that this person has made a violation. Though colleges are not required to adopt the new standard, they are encouraged to. Why might this be undesirable for people looking to report a Title IX case?

Well, let me start off by saying that domestic and sexual violence is becoming a huge problem. In the United States, an average of 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. This adds up to more than 12 million women and men over the course of a single year, with short and long term effects that reverberate and compound across campus and throughout the nation, according to The Huffington Post.

Survivors of sexual assault and other violent crimes are already hesitant to report their experiences, but a standard like this that makes it harder to prove a point will only turn them away from reporting even more. More than 90 percent of victims of sexual assault on college campuses don’t report the assault according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This number is appalling and we should be working to decrease it, while changing the standards may have the opposite result.

With all this being true, my question to DeVos is why are you making it harder for victims of assault to prove their case? Don’t we owe it to survivors to make the process as pain-free as possible WHILE being fair to both sides?

Title IX is a strenuous process for someone who has suffered a violent crime. They are forced to relive their experience while the world is telling them they need to move on. A victim is lucky if they don’t receive backlash for reporting their case.

Regardless of how much it hurts, it is completely necessary and all victims should be encouraged to go through the process because they deserve justice and to feel comfortable at their own university.

I don’t agree with DeVos’s changes because I don’t think the issue with Title IX lies in the amount of evidence we are collecting to prove the accused. The issue lies in sanctioning the guilty, providing support in helping victims readjust to school and in making an effort to prevent Title IX violations all together.

After cases are investigated through a fair process and it is proven that a person has committed this crime, the victim should be put first by considering what would be best for them over the perpetrator. It is important to offer help to both people involved after sexual misconduct but at the end of the day, it should be a school’s moral responsibility to ensure that victim is and feels safe in their education environment. That is what Title IX is for. Therefore, sanctions of the guilty should favor the victim.

I say this because people take their case through Title IX and still don’t get the result they want from it. Even after taking the time to report and painstakingly relive their experience in hopes of justice, victims of sexual and domestic violence crimes are forced to walk the same campus as their perpetrators. For some, it will be a daily reminder until they graduate as they live with the memories provoked by the campus itself and constant fear that they will run into their perpetrator on campus.

Among students who have been sexually harassed, 38 percent avoid the person who harasses them on campus, 19 percent stay away from particular buildings in an attempt to avoid that person and six percent consider transferring universities, according to a report from the American Association of University Women Education Foundation that surveyed 2,036 enrolled college students.

Imagine walking your campus in the midst of fight or flight response all of the time. That is what is it like for students who have to go through the remainder of their college career not knowing when they’ll see the person who did them wrong.

Regardless of the outcome, the victim rarely wins. Assault and abuse is not a short-term thing. Victims are left with damaging effects to one’s mental health that can last a lifetime. Long-term mental health effects include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, addiction and many more. Some may also experience difficulty with trust after such an experience that can affect current or future relationships.

The reality is, even a single hour of immediate trauma can take years to heal from.

We can’t take back someone’s experience, but we can help prevent the next one and do what we can to help survivors manage the effects from what has already happened.

It is obvious we are not doing enough to support our victims considering the amount of people who don’t even bother report their experiences, and as it becomes more and more prominent on campuses, we see that it is because we aren’t doing enough to prevent it.

What changes would I like to see instead of DeVos’s proposed ones?

Require schools to have bystander intervention courses. Teach students about Title IX and what their rights are. Inform students the steps they need to take to report their case as well as encourage them to report get support through the university. Inform people on what sexual and domestic violence is in case the signs are not clear. Teach students that it is WRONG to commit acts of sexual and domestic violence and their potential consequences for committing an act.

I commend Quinnipiac for continuing to adopt the current “preponderance of evidence” standard and for all the university has done to inform students of Title IX, most notably the “It’s On Us” campaign promoted during Sexual Assault Awareness month in April. That being said, I hope to see Quinnipiac continue to implement ways that can help reduce the amount of students who encounter sexual assault and domestic violence related situations on campus.

In support of Domestic Violence Awareness month, The Quinnipiac Chronicle will change its logo to purple for all October issues as a dedication to ending violence on and off campus.

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About Christina Popik

Creative Director
Interactive Digital Design Major
Twitter:@Christinapopikk
Class of 2019