(WASHINGTON) — Following months of controversy, the Education Department said on Thursday it would end Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assaults.
In a “dear colleague” letter, released in 2011, the Obama administration instructed schools to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard, rather than the more stringent “clear and convincing evidence standard, to prove sexual assault.
But the Trump administration argues using a lower standard of proof in sexual misconduct cases “suggests a discriminatory purpose.”
Quoting a recent court decision, the newly-released interim guidance said the Obama administration policy represents “a deliberate choice by the university to make cases of sexual misconduct easier to prove — and thus more difficult to defend, both for guilty and innocent students alike.”
Under the new guidance, schools can choose which standard of proof they use, but it should be “consistent with the standard the school applies in other student misconduct cases,” according to a document released on Thursday.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos first broadcast her intent to withdraw the “failed” Obama-era guidance in a press conference earlier this month, saying it was unfair to alleged perpetrators.
“One rape is too many … And one person denied due process is too many,” she said at George Mason Law School. “Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is no predetermined.”
“It’s no wonder so many call these proceedings kangaroo courts,” she said, referencing the lack of due process for both victims and the accused in on-campus sexual assault proceedings.
Academic studies put the prevalence of false allegations between 2 and 10 percent.
Thursday’s announcement comes just months after DeVos sparked a controversy by meeting with so-called “men’s rights” groups like the National Coalition for Men and groups that speak out on behalf of the accused, like Families Advocating for Campus Equality.
Volunteers for these groups say they just want to make sure all involved get a fair process.
“Victims for a long time weren’t taken seriously, and President Obama tried to correct that — but some of us think that he over-corrected, to the point where those who haven’t committed any crimes, like myself, are at a risk of losing their futures, losing their lives, and being destroyed, essentially,” Jonathan Andrews, a 23-year-old volunteer who says he was falsely accused of rape after he himself was sexually assaulted, told ABC News in July.
But survivor’s advocates, with whom the secretary also met, say the groups push harmful, blame-the-victim stereotypes.
“She’s meeting with groups and individuals today who believe that sexual assault is some sort of feminist plot to hurt men,” said Mara Keisling, Executive Director of National Center for Transgender Equality.
In response to today’s announcement, the National Women’s Law Center called the move “devastating.”
“It will discourage students from reporting assaults,” the group said in a statement, adding the standards set forth today represent “a huge step back to a time when sexual assault was a secret that was swept under the rug.”
The American Association of University Women went even further, saying in a statement, “today’s announcement confirms our suspicions: the U.S. Department of Education’s intent is to roll back critical civil rights protections for students.”
Obama Education Secretary John King tweeted that the move is “shameful and wrong” and “undermines student safety.”
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