Betsy DeVos Proposes Stronger Protections for Students Accused of Sexual Assault

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday announced an overhaul to Obama-era policies on campus sexual assault, strengthening protections for the accused and re-instating the possibility of cross examination for alleged victims. NPR reports the policy, which has now entered a public comment period, would allow schools to raise the standard of evidence necessary to convict an accused student from a “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” In some cases, NPR added, schools would be required to raise that evidentiary standard, because of a provision that mandates the standard be the same for students, faculty, and staff.

The rules would also reinstate the ability for the accused to cross-examine their accuser through a third party—a process that many survivors decry as re-traumatizing—and would only require schools to investigate conduct that is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the schools education program or activity.” Under Obama’s guidelines, any “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” merited investigation. And while DeVos claims her proposal will fix a “failed” and “shameful” system that gave too much power to the accuser, advocates disagree. “It demonstrates Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration share the same attitude about assault that we saw from Senate Republicans during the Kavanaugh hearing,” one advocate told NPR. “Disparage and diminish survivors and discourage them from reporting.”