Campus sex assault inquiries unbalanced, ed secretary says

Olivia Gomez, Staff Writer

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says the balance in campus sexual assault investigations has tipped so far the victim’s direction that the rights of the accused are being trampled.

High office gives her the means to push back, and she took full advantage with a controversial Sept. 7 demand that educational institutions begin deferring to law enforcement to a much greater extent.

Stirring opposition among educators, victims’ rights advocates and women’s rights advocates, she said law enforcement agencies are better suited to pursuing criminal investigations and school systems to educating students.
DeVos said the Obama administration had pushed schools into using their Title IX authority to conduct their own investigations, and take their own actions in response, often with no law enforcement involvement at all. And in a speech delivered at George Maxon University, she made it clear she’s out to reverse that.

Title IX, enacted in 1972, ensures access to education cannot be limited based on gender. Under President Obama, the Office of Civil Rights interpreted that to protect women from sexual violence in their pursuit of an education.

The office encouraged schools to do a better job of responding to complaints. To that end, it authorized them to base action on a preponderance of evidence, the standard used in civil cases, rather than beyond reasonable doubt, the standard used in criminal cases.

While DeVos did not directly challenge the Obama administration interpretation of Title IX’s reach, she did call for re-evaluation of campus sexual assault programs adopted in response.

“Washington’s push to require schools to establish these quasi-legal structures to address sexual misconduct comes up short for far too many students,” she said. The faculty and administrators faced with conducting investigations are often ill-prepared to do so, she contended.

The reverberations have extended all the way to Linfield College, where Micaela Lueders, a junior mass communication major, spent her spring semester researching campus sexual assault. She focused on the pros and cons of involving law enforcement in the process.

She said bringing in law enforcement takes the burden off educators and puts it on the shoulders of professionals, who have been trained in following Constitutional law and conducting thorough investigations.

However, those professionals must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which proves difficult to do without credible outside witnesses. Lueders said of assailants, “Statistically every one out of 100 will spend a single day in jail because it is so hard to prove without a shadow of a doubt that the assault occurred against the victim’s will.”

Lueders said keeping a sexual assault case within the confines of a campus adjudication system often proved more helpful to the victim. Sometimes the victim does not want to seek justice for the assault, she said. Sometimes the victim just wants emotional support.

Kara Kepple, Linfield’s coordinator of health and student wellness programs, called the college process a “survivor-centered model.” The student can ask for accommodations like extensions on papers or to not have class with the assailant, and can choose how much to pursue the case.

She said the college has staff and faculty advisors who help students go through the conduct evaluation process “so it’s a little less intimidating.” If students wish, they can ask police to conduct separate and independent criminal investigations too.

DeVos said she was committed to protecting all students, including alleged assailants. Kepple responded by saying that while all students have rights, perpetrators need to be held accountable for their actions.

DeVos is drawing support from op-ed columnists joining the Trump administration on the right end of the political spectrum, such as The New York Post’s Karol Markowicz and the National Review’s David French. They maintain that law enforcement should investigate sexual assault allegations, not educators and administrators.

Columnists taking a more liberal view, like Lucia Graves from The Guardian, aren’t buying it. Graves noted most accused assailants are white and male, which means the Trump administration is tilting the scales back toward what is already the nation’s most advantaged demographic.

Kepple seconded that. She was critical of media coverage of perpetrators, especially that of white heterosexual males, and said the focus tends to be on the promising lives that lay ahead of them, were it not for a “bad choice.” Kepple said, “They exerted power and control over someone and that is not OK.”

She condemned excusing sexual misconduct as an isolated mistake. “Turning right on red when it says not to turn right on red, that’s a mistake,” she said. “Sexually assaulting someone is not a mistake.