A few dozen people protested Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Thursday morning arrival on the Arlington campus of George Mason University, where she announced her of “protecting rapists” and failing to protect the most vulnerable, and the survivors of sexual assault.
Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, was considered a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX by the former Obama administration.
“After a week of disgusting announcements, this is going to be the worst of them,” said GMU graduate Rodrigo Velasquez, adding that there is “no legal or moral argument for rolling back protections for our most vulnerable.”
DeVos announced a plan to rethink the government’s enforcement of Title IX and federal regulations of sexual assault policies on college campuses. During her speech, DeVos said she would implement a public comment period to gather feedback on it.
DeVos on Thursday called for an overhaul of how colleges investigate sexual assault, saying Obama-era guidelines are not working.
DeVos also met with survivors of sexual assault, higher education officials, and their legal teams, but the fact that she’s giving men’s rights groups and those accused of sexual assault a seat at the table has stoked outrage among women’s advocates.
She said current guidelines do not do enough to address the due process rights of those accused of sexual assault and that the victims of sexual assault, the accused and colleges all lose under the current system.
“It is our moral obligation to get this right,” DeVos said at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. She offered no details on how the administration would revamp the guidelines.
About 30 protesters outside the venue chanted “stop Betsy DeVos” and “stop supporting rapists.”
DeVos is “valuing the rights of the perpetrator over that of the survivor. When they’re asking for fairness, they’re asking for special rights,” said Annie Clark, 28, of Raleigh, North Carolina, the executive director of End Rape on Campus and an organizer of the protest.
DeVos has met with several groups that advocate for the rights of accused rapists, including two men from Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), who say they were falsely accused of sexual assault.
Retired Navy Joseph Roberts and Jonathan Andrews each say they were falsely accused of sexual assault while in college.
Candice Jackson, who DeVos selected to oversee civil rights at the Department of Education, once claimed she was discriminated against because she is white.
Jackson expressed her sympathy for men and boys who feel their reputations have been ruined by what they say are false sexual assault allegations. She was also vocal in her condemnation of the women who came forward to accuse President Donald Trump of sexual assault, labeling them “fake victims.”
While Trump administration is skeptical about rape allegations, the facts show it is a seriouis and widespread problem.
A survey by the American Association of Universities in 2015 found that 11.7 percent of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact by physical force or threats of physical force while enrolled in school.
And research has repeatedly found that while sexual assault is under-reported generally, it’s far more under-reported on campus; the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2014 found that 80 percent of sexual assaults among female college students were not reported, compared to 67 percent among non-students.
Teen Vogue recently published an open letter signed by more than 100 survivors of sexual assault who told DeVos not to dismantle protections for survivors of sexual violence by weakening the oversight and enforcement mechanisms of the federal government.
“For us, this is personal, and traumatizing,” the letter said. “We cannot imagine a more cruel or misguided policy agenda than one that withdraws protections from vulnerable students — especially coming from the administration of a man who has been repeatedly accused of committing sexual violence himself.”
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