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Proposed Title IX Changes Favor Accused Rapists and Harm Survivors

Last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released long-awaited proposed Title IX policy changes. The policy proposals came after more than a year of promises to strengthen the rights of students accused of sexual violence on college campuses, and DeVos certainly did not disappoint the Trump administration’s growing base of rape apologists.

The Trump administration’s changes include a narrower and more stringent definition of sexual harassment that promises to dismiss and erase countless traumatic experiences, as well as new limits to schools’ ability to investigate the majority of incidents that did not take place on campus or school-owned property. Most alarming of all is a proposal to allow accused students to cross-examine their accusers; this would build upon the far too frequent phenomenon of survivors being placed in the same room as their attackers, to be humiliated, re-traumatized, and blamed for their own experiences.

These proposals starkly reflect a tendency to prioritize the comfort and future prospects of accused perpetrators — most of whom are young men — over those of survivors.

If anything, rather than hurt accused men, Title IX as is has not gone far enough to protect survivors’ rights, safety, and futures on campuses, subjecting many to neglect that has ended their academic careers. An estimated 34 percent of all survivors of campus rape are not able to graduate due to universities’ failure to provide them with the care and resources they need.

Additionally, most universities have failed to create environments where survivors feel safe and comfortable coming forward: According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90 percent of campus sexual assaults are unreported, compared with the estimated 2 to 10 percent of “false reports.” And, that said, there should certainly be debate about what, exactly, constitutes a “false report,” considering many of these cases involve both the accused and accusing parties acknowledging that an encounter took place, and merely disagreeing on whether one party felt violated, as research by journalist and author Vanessa Grigoriadis suggests.

Speaking of false reports, men are more likely to experience sexual assault themselves than be falsely accused of committing it. The Education Department’s active decision to ignore this, and instead focus on an alarmist narrative of a highly infrequent male experience reveal whose experience on campus matters, and whose does not; who is perceived as belonging on campus, and who is not.

It’s no wonder that reporting rates are so jarringly low. Even with current Title IX policy in place and under crucial Obama-era reforms, there are consistently documented cases of survivors being punished by their schools for reporting their experiences, pressured talking to law enforcement against their will, and, of course, subjected to ostracism and social stigma from mutual friends they often share with their attacker.

DeVos’ proposed policy changes will likely only further intimidate survivors into silence. How many will be prepared to face their attackers and, before lawyers and school administrators, answer any number of degrading, humiliating questions about what they were wearing, how much they had drank, their sexual histories, and so on and so forth?

In order to have productive discussion about the actual implications of the proposed Title IX changes, it’s crucial that we dispel with the myth that any of this is about justice or due process.

This administration is not concerned with due process, and attending any one of the president’s rallies, where thousands of enraged, white male supporters chant “Lock her up!” about an unindicted female political opponent, should make this perfectly clear. Despite bemoaning the end of “innocence until proven guilty,” President Trump and his fellow rape apologists — including his wife, First Lady Melania — have yet to offer even one suggestion for how survivors who were not wearing body cameras during their assault, or lack witnesses, could “prove” the guilt of their attackers.

In November 2017, Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders callously dismissed the more than 20 allegations of sexual misconduct against the president by suggesting only cases where the male perpetrator has confessed should be investigated. Of course, Trump has confessed on the notorious Access Hollywood, “grab ‘em by the p-ssy” tape. And still, nothing — no accountability, whatsoever — has come about as a result.

Rather than due process, these proposed Title IX changes reflect the Trump Education Department’s desire to protect the gendered nature of credibility, so that it continues to favor men and disenfranchise women and marginalized groups who are disproportionately likely to experience sexual violence. Often due to factors beyond their control, most survivors are simply incapable of providing evidence other than their personal testimony; so long as white men have a monopoly on credibility, survivors will continue to live in abject danger.

More specifically, the proposals reflect a push to protect what some in our culture seem to believe is a white, male birthright: the ability to treat women however they wish without consequence. For white male college students, this administration, which constantly, dishonestly decries Mexican men as bestial rapists, aims to protect a cherished university experience of casual sexual violence — without any damage to their careers, comfort, and reputations.

Featured Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Kylie Cheung is the author of 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a book of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy. She writes about reproductive justice, women's/LGBTQ rights, and national politics. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering for political campaigns and re-watching The Office. Learn more about her work at

Kylie Cheung is the author of the book, 'The Gaslit Diaries,' a series of essays exploring the gaslighting and politics that underlie American women's everyday experiences in the patriarchy.

Read more about Kylie

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