In 2016, a University of Massachusetts student was forced to leave school following an evening with a fellow junior. She performed oral sex on him; at the end of the night, they exchanged phone numbers. It was only later that she decided, based on “training” she’d received, that she had been sexually assaulted. The way this case was handled by college administrators “may seem perverse,” said Emily Yoffe in The Atlantic. But that approach was mandated by Obama-era campus sexual assault guidelines—which vaguely defined assault as any “unwelcome” contact, lowered the standard of proof against accused students, and stripped them of basic constitutional protections including access to evidence and the right to cross-examine witnesses. The result, said NationalReview.com in an editorial, was “a vast, morally outrageous, and oppressive system of kangaroo courts” that essentially presumed male students guilty in any ambiguous situation. Thankfully, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week announced she would rewrite those rules—arguing they do “a disservice to everyone involved.”
“This is exactly what survivors, their advocates, and supporters of women’s rights have feared since Inauguration Day,” said Renée Graham in The Boston Globe. DeVos is worried about “the rights of the accused” but failed to mention that “only 2 to 10 percent of rape allegations are false,” according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Until the Obama administration intervened, most victims were extremely unlikely to see their attackers punished for their brutal crimes. DeVos’ rollback “should come as no surprise,” said Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky in The Washington Post. After all, she works for “a president who has bragged about sexually assaulting women”—and getting away with it.
Whatever you think of DeVos, she happens to be right in this instance, said Lara Bazelon in Politico .com. The Obama administration’s guidelines— which threatened colleges with the loss of federal funds if they didn’t comply—were “ripe for abuse at the hands of scared, ill-trained administrators.” Just last month, four feminist Harvard legal scholars wrote to the Education Department, describing how “terrified” college administrators had “overcomplied” with the directive. Courts have reversed colleges’ guilty findings on due process grounds in at least 59 cases—21 this year alone. In this country, “every person accused of a serious charge deserves a fair process before judgment.”