DeVos regulations could change how sexual assault is handled on campus

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michael Vadon | Daily Texan Staff

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing new regulations that would reduce liability on universities for occurrences of sexual assault and strengthen the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape, according to the New York Times.

The new policies encourage schools to provide more support for victims. They also “narrow the definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses,” according to the New York Times report.

“It’s an unfortunate more-of-the-same from Secretary DeVos, who’s constantly trying to roll back protections for victims of sexual assault on college campuses,” said Sophie Jerwick, director of peer education at Not On My Campus.

According to the report, the new regulations would allow universities to decide which standard of evidence to use in determining whether alleged sexual misconduct occurred – clear and convincing evidence or preponderance of evidence.

Preponderance of evidence, which means it is more likely than not that the incident occurred, is the lower of the two standards that is currently used in UT Title IX offices and was required nationally until DeVos rescinded the rule in 2017.

Jerwick said if universities require more evidence, it could impact the outcomes of reports, whether disciplinary action is taken and whether survivors come forward.

“The cases, simply by their nature, do not have that much evidence to them,” said Jerwick, Plan II and government senior. “It’s very he-said-she-said. A lot of survivors of sexual assault don’t have rape kits, don’t have DNA evidence, don’t have witnesses because they are intimate acts of violence.”

University Communications Strategist Shilpa Bakre said the Title IX Office remains committed to supporting students and faculty but cannot specify how things might change if new regulations are put into effect.

“We cannot speculate on proposed legislative changes to the Title IX regulations from the Department of Education but are working swiftly to understand the implications,” Bakre said. “We will review our policies when any changes are officially published and share them with the campus community.”

Jerwick said if universities can choose their standard of evidence, she believes UT will maintain its lower standard instead of choosing a higher one. “We have a very invested Title IX office that is going to do the extra leg work to keep the preponderance of evidence standard,” Jerwick said. “For the schools that don’t care as much about their students and their survivors, they’re definitely in trouble.”