Title IX, Betsy DeVos and Sexual Assault in Schools

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Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of the Department of Education under Donald Trump has written a new procedure to use in cases of sexual discrimination in our schools and especially in our colleges. Having these policies rewritten by a woman who never stepped foot in a public school, who champions private religious schools, and who, most likely, has never set foot on the campus of a State University is problematic for many people. This constitutes a new interpretation of the rights of women and girls as set forth in Title IX in a series of government programs that were designed to make schools fairer. For one thing Title IX becomes the rights of boys and girls, rather than the rights for girls, which takes some of the teeth out of Title IX.

Narrower definition – “Under the prior guidance, a single incident, if severe enough, might meet the definition of sexual harassment. The new rules state that sexual harassment must be unwelcome conduct that is so “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it effectively denies a person access to the school’s education programs or activities. 

The new rules also clarify the sexual harassment definition to specifically include sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, which need not satisfy the severe and pervasive standard.”

Might discourage reporting – “Under the new rules, colleges and universities must now conduct live hearings with cross-examination in connection with sexual misconduct complaints. Critics believe this will intimidate and cause further emotional harm to sexual assault survivors.

Before, schools could use a standard of “preponderance of the evidence” – which means more likely than not – to prove a Title IX policy violation. Now, schools may use a “clear and convincing” evidence standard.”

“Victim advocates are concerned that schools will utilize the higher standard of proof to reduce the number of lawsuits from accused perpetrators who are disciplined under the policy.

The rule changes arguably provide more due process protections for alleged perpetrators that many observers and some courts found were lacking in the past.”

“The final rules take effect Aug. 14, 2020, which is particularly challenging given the major demands on schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. If a college or university has not utilized live hearings, they must now coordinate and train staff and personnel to develop and implement the new investigation and hearing requirements, including virtual hearings if necessary.”

These facts are taken from an article in The Conversation and there are more specifics in the article if you want more detail.


This is a complex issue. It involves our children both female and male. And while it is true that males are more likely to be guilty of sexual assault; women may, for a number of emotional reasons, either falsely accuse someone or exaggerate a behavior that is negative and demeaning but may not rise to the level of sexual assault. Since many sexual assaults are verbal and have psychological effects that only the victim can experience first hand these situations are difficult to unravel. 

It has also been true that colleges tend to bury sexual assault complaints that may reflect on their school, therefore their reputation and their bottom line, and so they keep them “in the family” so to speak. How do we make sure women are protected and prevent men from being falsely accused? Well isn’t that the dilemma of the entire #metoo movement. 

For reasons of transparency I will tell you that I am a member of AAUW whose goals include protecting girls and women from discrimination, including but not limited to sexual discrimination. So this august group sees the new Betsy DeVos rules as being problematic in that they may further intimidate girls and young women who already feel threatened by a sexual aggression. 

Can you, by procedures, protect both girls and boys in this matter? Can you leave the adjudication of sexual assault as a campus matter when colleges can be negatively affected if details leak into the public domain? Will Betsy DeVos’s plan keep our daughters safe and our sons from false accusations? Should someone whose Evangelical roots advise that women should be submissive be considered the right person to lead the Department of Education when it is trying to offer fairness and enlightenment in these matter. Keep an eye on how this plays out. We may need to revisit it. Does it take all the teeth and all the protections out of Title IX? Again, pay attention next fall as these new rules come into use. Talk to your daughters, talk to your sons. This is a very tough issue and oversight from parents is extremely important. 

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