Betsy DeVos, Secretary Of Education And Enemy Of Victims

Attitudes about rape in the DeVos Department of Education will empower perpetrators and undermine victims

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listens before addressing Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listens before addressing Education Department staff, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Education Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Update: Devos has officially rescinded Obama-era Title IX sexual assault protections

Betsy DeVos has finally decided to meet with advocates for victims of sexual violence after months of speculation that she plans to limit Title IX safeguards that protect victims of campus rape. Though that might sound like a step in the right direction, she completely nullified it when, according to Politico, she reached out to controversial men’s rights groups. These groups include Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), an organization considered misogynistic by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Coalition for Men, a group that outs women whom they consider “false victims” of sexual assault. Legitimizing these groups and implying there is an epidemic of false reports of rape on campus are a slap in the face to the one in four women who have reported being sexually assaulted on college campuses.

Should an organization whose president said of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, “If she hadn’t aggravated him, she wouldn’t have been hit,” really have a say in policies on campus rape? Why would DeVos even consider soliciting input from misogynistic organizations? She should see the idea as abhorrent unless she considered their perspective on campus rape as valid as the perspective of rape victims.

Candice Jackson, who has a leading role in the Office for Civil Rights arm of the Department of Education, does not have a strong record of defending the rights and interests of victims of sexual violence. In fact, some of her rhetoric and beliefs mirror those of the National Coalition for Men. In 2005, she wrote Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine. Yet Jackson is also the same person who said that women who accused Trump of sexual assault were “fake victims” (sound familiar?). She politicizes rape and sexual violence. Worse, she has a dangerous perspective on campus rape, insinuating that many rapes are not real crimes. Via the New York Times, Ms. Jackson said, “Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”

It is extremely rare for women to weaponize accusations of rape to harm an ex-partner, as Jackson contends. (According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, only between two and ten percent of rape accusations are false.) Likewise, rape is far more sinister than a drunken misunderstanding. Perpetrators of sexual violence use these same arguments to discredit victims and justify their crimes. Both of these beliefs promote rape culture.

Now, perpetrators have two powerful allies in the Department of Education who validate these dangerous, unfounded myths about sexual violence. Compare the current administration’s attitude towards victims with that of Joe Biden during the Obama administration. He said, via WBUR.org, “We are the first administration to make it clear that sexual assault is not just a crime, it can be a violation of a woman’s civil rights.” During Obama’s presidency, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidelines for responding to sexual assault on campus which included this:

“If an investigation reveals that sexual violence created a hostile environment, the school must then take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects. But a school should not wait to take steps to protect its students until students have already been deprived of educational opportunities.”

If campus officials espouse the views of Jackson, the alleged victim of sexual assault will face a hostile environment the moment she reports the crime. After all, if you believe Jackson, only 10% of campus rapes are real crimes. The rest, by her logic, are misunderstandings or acts of revenge. Creating a dichotomy between “true victims” and “false victims” outside of the context of an investigation invites the public to make unfair, uninformed judgments. It also gives the green light to campus officials to view victims of sexual assault as potential perpetrators of slander.

Under the Trump administration, it is all but certain that DeVos will change the way Title IX is interpreted when it comes to sexual assault. These attitudes behind these reforms do not exist in a vacuum, however. They will embolden defenders of rape culture who are already inclined to slander victims and pass judgment without knowing the facts of the case. Ultimately, these attitudes will discourage reporting, fueling victims’ fears of not being believed or, even worse, being re-victimized a second time through the reporting process.

As a college student at Stanford, Jackson once complained, “College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards.” Unfortunately, DeVos and Jackson have a dangerous view of forward progress. Their view of progress involves legitimizing misogynistic organizations and creating a campus culture that is not conducive to reporting. At best, DeVos and Jackson are completely insensitive to the needs of victims of sexual violence. At worst, they are using their positions to make college campuses more comfortable for perpetrators of sexual violence than they are for their victims.

Schooled // Betsy Devos / Education / Rape / Sexual Assault