May 6, 2020 - Politics & Policy

DeVos issues final rules overhauling campus sexual assault policies

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released finalized guidelines on Wednesday on how colleges should handle complaints of sexual assault and misconduct, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The rules grant additional protections for students and faculty accused of sexual assault or misconduct and overhaul Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. They go into effect before the fall semester on Aug. 14.

The big picture: The rules provide a narrower definition of sexual harassment that includes unwelcome conduct "so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive" that it "denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity," according to NBC News.

  • Allegations of stalking, domestic violence and dating violence must also be investigated.

The regulations require colleges to hold hearings with student victims and accused perpetrators during which they will be cross-examined with a lawyer or representative present.

  • They specify that schools are only obligated to investigate complaints that were filed through a formal process and that occurred within students' programs and activities.
  • Alleged perpetrators will have the presumption of innocence throughout the disciplinary process and access to all evidence collected against them.
  • Schools can only be found culpable of mishandling allegations if they have been proven “deliberately indifferent” in providing support to victims and investigating complaints.

What to watch: Victims rights groups say they will challenge the new rules in court. Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, told the Times that victims "refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug."

  • “Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are dead set on making schools more dangerous for everyone — even during a global pandemic,”Graves added.
  • "And if this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault."

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