With a seemingly endless cycle of celebrities being exposed for committing sexual assault, the issue has come to the forefront of America’s collective conscience. And still, many refuse to pick up the gauntlet.
Instead, many people fish for red herrings — desperately trying to shift our focus from the actual issue of rape culture toward concerns over how victims dress or the alcohol that some victims drink.
To correct this kind of thinking and fix the issue at large, it isn’t enough to engage in dialogue with misguided people.
On top of that, we’ve got to have a concerted effort on the part of our government.
Unfortunately, the tone for this administration’s attitude toward sexual assault has been set from the top.
The leader of our nation has not only been repeatedly accused of sexual assault, he’s openly bragged about it.
But perhaps even more damaging, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded Title IX policies that were key in combating sexual assault.
In 2011, the Obama administration sent a letter to colleges and universities warning schools they could lose federal funding if they didn’t comply with the aggressive stance on sexual assault the administration was taking.
DeVos argued the letter prevented the accused from having access to the evidence put forth against them and didn’t require the accused to receive notice of the complaint filed against them.
The letter, however, doesn’t read that way: “the parties must have an equal opportunity to present relevant witnesses and other evidence. The complainant and the alleged perpetrator must be afforded similar and timely access to any information that will be used at the hearing.”
If DeVos were truly interested in ensuring sexual assault cases weren’t mishandled, she would not have rescinded the letter.
In fact, a recent list of all closed Title IX complaints regarding sexual assault at postsecondary institutions shows that about two-thirds of all cases that have been resolved were done so after the Obama-era letter was sent.
DeVos criticized the letter’s requirement that universities have a preponderance of evidence instead of requiring a higher standard.
We, however, believe that requiring a preponderance of evidence is preferable to higher standards of evidence.
Too few people feel comfortable coming out to say they’ve been sexually assaulted, and we believe the fear that false accusations will run rampant is unfounded.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to police. And the numbers are even lower for college students. According to a BJS/Department of Justice study, more than 95 percent of rapes and attempted rapes of women in college go unreported to police.
As to the fears of false accusations, the letter provides a bulwark against such things from taking place. On top of the protections mentioned earlier, it also expressly demands that schools provide the rights of all parties — and if they don’t, they will be subject to penalty.
At the end of the day, we need a government that will unquestionably defend victims of sexual assault. That doesn’t mean we allow false accusations to fly around, but it does mean we create an environment where sexual assault victims feel more comfortable pointing toward their assailants. Tempered with the reaffirmation of protecting the accused, the Obama-era letter marked a great stride toward justice in our country, and we believe we should return to it.