Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she plans to dramatically retool the Department of Education’s guidelines for investigating and responding to cases of campus sexual assault—and she emphasized that she thinks the alleged perpetrators of assault have been mistreated as much as their alleged victims.
Speaking at George Mason University on Thursday, DeVos said, “there is no way to avoid the devastating reality of campus sexual misconduct. Lives have been lost. Lives of victims. And lives of the accused.”
Citing a “current failed system,” DeVos insisted that the Title IX guidelines put in place by the Obama administration had led to campuses which were unprepared and ill-equipped to assess allegations of sexual assault, which harmed not only the accusers, but the accused as well.
“The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the ‘victim’ only creates more victims,” DeVos said.
DeVos’ announcement came several months after the head of the DOE’s civil rights division said that 90% of campus sexual assault cases “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 just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”
The official later apologized for the remarks, calling them “flippant.”
In her speech on Thursday, DeVos largely focused on the process by which campus sexual assault cases were pursued by university officials, insisting, “A better way means that due process is not an abstract legal principle only discussed in lecture halls. Due process is the foundation of any system of justice that seeks a fair outcome. Due process either protects everyone, or it protects no one.”
Campuses are currently bound by a slightly different, less stringent set of guiding principles when it comes to determining responsibility in cases of alleged sexual assault—particularly when it comes to the burden of proof required.
“[‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ is] not really appropriate on the campus level,” Laura Dunn, executive director the SurvJustice advocacy group, explained to the Washington Post. “We’re not locking people up, executing them, putting them away for years denying their liberty”
As part of the process to revamp the current Title IX policies, DeVos said that the DOE would be soliciting public feedback, and combing it with “institutional knowledge, professional expertise and the experiences of students.”
According to the Post, there were several dozen protesters outside DeVos’ speech, including some who claimed to be survivors of sexual assault. At least one protester reportedly carried a sign that said “Donald Trump supports Betsy DeVos supports perpetrators.”