Colleges nationwide no longer have to follow Obama-era rules on campus sexual assault, the United States Department of Education announced on Friday, Sept. 22 – a move some opponents said could have a chilling effect on victims coming forward.
Instead, the department, under the direction of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has implemented interim guidelines that allow universities to use higher standards of guilt when adjudicating cases of alleged rape and other types of sexual violence, and opens the door for accused students to cross-examine their accusers.
The department will work to implement new guidelines that will “achieve fair access to educational benefits,” Devos said in a “Dear Colleague” letter to university officials.
“This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” DeVos said in a statement. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug.”
Opponents of the new rules, however, said on Friday that the guidelines are a step backward – potentially scaring off some survivors from coming forward, and re-traumatizing others.
“It’s going to have a chilling effect,” said Emily Austin, director of advocacy services for the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The effect in California, though, could be less severe than nationwide, state officials and activists said.
“UC policies remain in effect to provide procedural protections that reflect our firm commitment to a safe learning and working environment on all our campuses,” Janet Napolitano, the University of California president, said in statement.
“We have been,” she continued, “and will continue to be committed to fairly investigating and resolving complaints of sexual violence.”
In 2011, President Barack Obama sent his own Dear Colleague letter, issuing guidelines for how universities should handle campus sexual assaults.
In it, he wrote that mishandling such cases could violate Title IX, the landmark 1972 legislation – known more for supporting women’s sports – that guarantees gender equality in education.
Those guidelines, among other things, discouraged cross-examinations and putting accused and accuser in the same room, and required universities to conduct investigations independent of criminal and civil ones.
But the new, interim guidelines allow – but don’t require – universities…