Will DeVos Rewrite the Rules on Campus Sex Assault?

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After barely surviving her confirmation battle and facing sporadic protests during visits to schools, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could hardly have teed up a more fraught, emotional and divisive issue to launch her tenure: campus sexual assault, the Los Angeles Times reports. Almost no one was happy with the Obama administration’s efforts to prod colleges and universities to more aggressively combat and investigate sexual assault on campus, but there is little agreement on how to make things better. Alleged survivors, accused perpetrators and even school officials all complain that the current system isn’t working.

DeVos raised eyebrows with her outreach last month to students who say they have been falsely accused of assault. These students, mostly men, say the Obama rules have pushed schools to create a process that is stacked against them. Campus administrators say the guidelines created unrealistic expectations, forcing them to take sides even in cases where the facts are unclear, and to perform a prosecutorial role, often without proper training. Even victims advocates say the current system has fallen short, leading some schools — eager to protect their reputations and avoid the mandatory reporting and investigatory process triggered by the rules — to discourage students from reporting sexual assaults. Now there’s a virtual race to gain DeVos’ ear as she gathers information for what might be an overhaul of the Obama-era rules. “[We] still see this knee-jerk reaction that there’s something wrong with the student who actually made the complaint,” said Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center. She and others worry that DeVos may scale back the federal rules or make the complaint process more burdensome for accusers.

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