The Trump administration announced their reversal of Obama-era guidance of Title IX, which forced universities that are federally funded to be aggressive on sexual assault perpetrators. The Title IX legislation required federally funded universities to have a system in place that handles sexual assault complaints.
In their 2011 letter, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights said that a “preponderance of evidence” should be used when deciding on whether an assault really occurred. This requests that there be enough evidence to say that something is likely than not to be correct. This means that the accuser can use testimony as reasonable evidence to prove his or her case.
Until 2011, universities have been using the higher standard of clear and convincing evidence that leaves a solid belief that the assault happened.
Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos said in a statement that it is a “failed system” of campus enforcement and doesn’t treat students fairly. It didn’t give everyone confidence in its outcomes. The new roll back from the Trump administration requires colleges to address incidents that are pervasive, severe, or continuous and all investigations must be impartial and timely.
Jessica Kilbourn, EMU professor of Women’s and Gender Studies is outraged at the power it puts in the hands of the perpetrator. She said that more activism and campus culture adjustments are key to preventing more assaults.
“This makes me so angry, it further supports a rape culture and continues to breed a rape mentality of college campuses. DeVos and Trump don’t understand the power that this continues to put in rapists hands,” she said.
“Speak out, hold Take Back the Night marches, have a visible campus women’s resource center and campus climate that says that there is zero tolerance for sexual assault. There should be an open discussion making it less taboo and more visible.” She continued.
Kilbourn holds hope that victims will feel confident to speak up although the perpetrators will be more protected. She said that stopping victim blaming is one of the most important steps to encourage survivors to speak out.
“It is hard enough being raped but it is even worse to have the system side with the perpetrators. A system that says rape isn’t that serious and not serious on college campuses and that the survivor was asking for it. Then to not be believed and be raped by the system all over again,” she said. “We must break the culture of silence and victim blaming mentality. Also, we should have meaningful discussions about reporting and telling our stories.”
Mckenzie Campbell, graduate student majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies, said that the roll back marks a shift in campus culture where sexual assault isn’t taken seriously.
“It’s incredibly hard for anyone to report sexual assault in the first place, so we need to make sure that survivors who do come forward don’t experience retaliation,” she said. “The experience of reporting sexual assault has been said to be worse than the sexual assault itself, due to the private, intimate nature of the details that are required for an investigation.”
Campbell said that the key to preventing sexual assault is to address the problem of violent masculinity so they don’t feel entitled to women’s bodies.
“We need to encourage men to take sexism seriously. Taking feminism seriously is the first step to ending sexism,” she said. “Talking to students needs to start before they come to college. Sex education should be in our public-school systems.”
The Trump administration has also made a change in birth control coverage that allows any employer, university or insurance company to deny women health care coverage for birth control. The administrations reasons include an increased risk of teen sexual activity and pregnancy and causes breast cancer.
Kilbourn said that birth control is needed and the government or employers should not be involved in making birth control decisions.
“It just shows the misogyny and blatant ignorance of the importance of birth control, access to birth control equals less pregnancy and less pregnancy equals less abortion,” she said.
Campbell said that she is not shocked that they made the change. She said that the Supreme Court was the first group to claim that employers had the religious right to deny birth control coverage to any of their employers in Hobby Lobby case.
Dillon Rump, freshman majoring in political science, said that the roll back would make it harder to get justice. He said that assaults couldn’t entirely be eliminated but reduced.
“You can’t be fully safe in any laws because bad people are going to do it anyway. People who are not normally bad people and are impaired by substances might not be thinking of the consequences but would get away with it now,” he said. “Add courses in school on sexual assault and talk to students early.”