To say that I am disturbed to the new reforms Betsy DeVos has brought to the title 9 would be an understatement. Title IX is a Department of Education federal law that stops institutions from discriminating against students on the basis of their sex. This law was set in 1972 and was, for obvious reasons, revolutionary. In time, it grew to include rules concerning students and sexual assault. Up till now, the institutions had the permit to handle cases of sexual assault as they saw fit. Most institutes handled the cases in an individual manner and had policies protecting the rights of students. With the number of sexual assault cases noted across the world, it statistically made sense to believe the victim-survivor of sexual assault and harassment. That is until 7th May.
On the 7th of May, 2020 – Betsy DeVos, who is highly unqualified to be the United States Secretary of Education – brought certain changes to Title IX. She and her office have introduced changes that are not only outright disgusting but also a shame to the stature of the office. The changes they brought now allows people to get lawyers to cross-examine allegations before the institute can take action. In the name of justice, what the education department has done is take a weight and put it on the wrong side on Lady Justice’s scales. These changes also make it not mandatory for university employees to report cases of sexual assault brought forward to them.
To put the changes of the law into the simplest terms, they have now allowed for the person accused of sexual assault to bring their attorney into a room to talk about the sexual assault in front of the person accused. Not only that the job of that attorney is now to question every statement made by the accuser and try to prove them a liar so that their client can continue their college degree.
Shameful for Everyone
After the #MeToo encouraged people who have been harassed or sexually assaulted to come and speak out, this move puts everyone in a delicate position. Cross that. It puts the accusers in an impossible situation. Not only is the outcome of the cases of sexual assault now dependant on the wealth of a person – as more wealth would mean better courtroom representation – it would also mean that a student would have to methodically prove things like sexual harassment that take place in situations where many people are not around as witnesses. Once it boils to he says – she says, the new rule that says to consider the person being accused innocent until proven otherwise gets to go without any repercussions.
Betsy DeVos is supporting this action from her office by saying it balances the scales of Lady Justice when in reality it is allowing injustices like sexual assault and harassment go unpunished because there aren’t enough witnesses. Even if there are enough witnesses, I worry for the person who has to recount the experience of sexual assault in front of their assaulter for it to be questioned. From intrusive testing to the toll that this process would take on the student’s mental health, this is a demeaning and insensitive way to provide the justice the education department is looking for.
What about people who are falsely accusing?
According to a report, in America, the number of falsely reported cases of sexual assault range from between 2% to 10%. Because of this immense range, the true number of what the number on false reporting does not exist. Of course, this is considering the number of cases that are reported. If the numbers for the ones that aren’t reported come in, the reality would look very different.
So what about those who are falsely accused? I feel for them. I feel bad if the people who have been accused of sexual assault are genuinely good folks. That does not make this change in law any better. This brings down the number of cases reported significantly, promotes the “Why didn’t she speak sooner?” message, brings victim-blaming to the center of the table, and manages to get everything wrong about sexual assault and harassment.
Honestly, since Betsy DeVos identifies as a female, I am surprised she gave the green light on a move like such. This is the equivalent of throwing a glass of water on someone’s face in public.
The Impact on Interpersonal relationships
The fact is, most people knew the person that assaulted them personally. This means that in school and college relationships, the angle of – “you were in a relationship” – is going to be seen for assessing the assault or harassment case. Even right now, women tend to not speak out about violent interpersonal assault and harassment cases, the fear of having to sit and explain everything to the attorney of the accused, who questions the entire relationship is going to be nothing short of a deterrent to reporting harassers.
Now it is a possibility that you believe that I am assuming the worst. Even though I would disagree that this isn’t the worst, let’s try to look at maybe a scenario that allegedly isn’t so bad.
A female person accuses a male person of sexual assault, the proceedings take place and it is found that the person being accused of assault is indeed guilty. They get expelled from the institute and/or legal repercussions are taken against them. On the other side, the person who was sexually assaulted had to take significant time away from her studies for the legal battle. If the case is large enough, potentially risk losing their job because of the attention on them.
That is not to say the same doesn’t apply to the accused, but there is at least a 90% chance that they are guilty and shouldn’t have the luxury of resuming life without facing any legal action.
With coronavirus, the nationwide lockdown happened at a 2% mortality rate. Here a 90% chance that the accuser is saying the truth is not enough for Betsy DeVos and her office.
We see you.
So what now?
In my opinion, this action is a calculated one. The presence of the lockdown in the nation disallows people to protest these changes while people who are currently misusing their privilege can stand with their guns to try and force the government to reopen America.
What I am expecting to see is that this creates a culture that promotes victim-blaming. In the same fashion that the white house has been running for a while now, wealth is going to dictate the outcome of such cases. The live hearings are going to slowly become male chauvinist entertainment and publicizing cases of sexual assault is going to become normal.
I don’t know if the education department has any form of a moral compass, but all I can say is that what they did – they should be ashamed of themselves.
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