More details are emerging about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s proposal to overhaul how school districts and universities handle sexual harassment and assault complaints, and all I can say is, fuck you, Betsy.
According to the New York Times, the Department of Education’s own analysis of the new proposal—which would narrow the scope of what counts as harassment and give schools much more leeway in dismissing complaints—shows that, if implemented, schools and universities would conduct far fewer investigations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape:
The department projected that colleges and universities currently conduct an average of 1.18 sexual harassment investigations each per year, and that under the new rule, the figure would fall to 0.72 investigations per year, a decline of 39 percent. There are about 6,000 colleges and universities nationwide.
While the average number of Title IX investigations is not tracked at the elementary and secondary school level, the department drew data on sexual harassment episodes from its most recent civil rights data collection to conclude that the school districts currently investigate an average of 3.23 episodes per year. That rate, they estimated, would decrease to 1.61 under the new rules, a decline of 50 percent. There are about 17,000 elementary and secondary school districts.
Since becoming Education Secretary, DeVos has made rolling back the rights of sexual assault and rape survivors a part of her mission, repeatedly championing the rights of the accused. Last July, after she met with campus sexual assault survivors and had what I’m sure was a nice friendly chat with several men’s rights groups, she announced plans to rescind Obama-era Title IX enforcement guidelines that worked to ease the burden of proof on survivors of assault and called for universities to conduct timely investigations. Two months later, she did just that.
This new proposal would replace temporary guidelines DeVos put in place in 2017. While the exact language of the new regulations has yet to be released, the Times reports that there are “significant changes” in DeVos’s proposal, all of which limit the rights of survivors and allow schools and universities off the hook:
Among the most significant changes in the proposed rules would be the department’s move to clarify and narrow the scope of complaints that schools are obligated to investigate. The rules require that institutions investigate only formal complaints that are filed with an authority figure, and no longer require that schools investigate complaints alleging conduct that occurred off campus or outside their school-sponsored programs. The rules also allow schools to address more complaints through informal resolutions.
The Department of Education also plans on adopting a much narrower definition of sexual harassment, giving schools more leeway in dismissing claims of harassment or assault:
The new definition defines it as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”
The draft regulations would allow a school to dismiss a Title IX complaint if it does not meet the new definition of sexual harassment, even if the conduct is proved to be true.
Under the Obama administration, harassment was defined much more broadly, and accurately, as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” that includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
It’s pretty clear that DeVos’s main concern is not the needs of assault survivors, but the bottom line of schools and universities. These new guidelines, the DOE notes in its analysis, would not only limit the number of complaints filed, but potentially save schools more than $400 million over the next decade. The cost to those who may no longer be able to obtain a measure of justice was, of course, not addressed.