Yesterday (September 7, 2017) Betsy DeVos, the head of the US Department of Education, announced a “rollback of Obama era rules” pertaining to Title IX. Before she ever opened her mouth, survivors and advocates were rallying against the planned changes that look a whole lot more like rape apologism than the enforcement of civil rights. Because they are.
Her values should not be surprising – they align perfectly with the current administration.
Fellow survivors and advocates, we are a force to be reckoned with. We are resilient. Our individual and collective voices matter. The system fails us. Society blames us. But we are more valuable than either gives us credit. We are more valuable than Ms. DeVos and her fellow rape apologists give us credit. Our stories are important. Our experiences are valid.
A few quick stats & facts pertinent to Ms. DeVos’ concerns for the accused rather than the victimised (check out RAINN.org and NSVRC.org for more information):
- False accusations are the exception, not the rule. Only 2-8% of sexual assault reports are deemed false. Same as any other crime.
- Rape is already under-reported largely because victims KNOW they’ll likely be re-victimized by a society that blames them. It is estimated that only 12% of campus assaults are reported.
- A man is more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape. False accusations are rare (see #1). Approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted during college. (In my experience as an advocate, those numbers are much higher.) Furthermore, not all offenders are men just as not all victims are women.
- Only 2% of rapists will spend time in jail for their crime. Title IX is not the same thing as the criminal justice system but this is indicative of how our society responds to offenders. Sexually violent people are also the most likely to continuously re-offend over and over again. Most offenders are serial offenders.
- “In one survey of 1,882 men, the subjects were representative of the diverse American population, had an average age of twenty-eight, and were employed and attending college part-time. The results revealed that 120 men had committed 483 rapes against women they knew” (The Undetected Rapist)
- 1 in 3 college men admit that they would commit sexual assault/rape if they knew they could get away with it.
- Contrary to what Ms. DeVos has said, supporting the accused never translates into empowering victims and it will not put an end to violence on campus.
- The fall semester is known as The Red Zone. This means that Betsy DeVos announced her intentions to support the accused rather than victims during the six weeks college students are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. Instead of raising awareness and promoting education to combat violence, the Department of Education head is working to dismantle a system designed to keep schools safe. It’s not a perfect system – none are perfect – but we have come a long way in the recent years!
- Society already protects and supports those accused of committing sexual violence. We call it victim blaming: what were you wearing? why were you there? how much did you have to drink? rather than “why did you rape her/him?” It’s rape culture.
- When schools do find a student responsible (schools do not have the authority to deem someone “guilty”) for the reported sexual violence, it is rare that the “sexual misconduct” results in serious consequences. Cheating is often taken more seriously than rape. Too often the victim is sanctioned by their school more severely than their offender.
Empowering victims by taking their stories seriously & holding their offenders accountable is what really protects students.
Finally, it is important to remember that our conversations about sexual violence – on campus and elsewhere – are not complete if we ignore how minorities are impacted. We cannot advocate for one “type” of victim but not another. As we work to improve services and support for victims, we need to highlight the obstacles faced by people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQI community.
I want to specifically highlight a terrific Q&A with Chardonnay Madkins – survivors and project manager for the advocacy organization End Rape on Campus – via the Los Angeles Times. She explains “why it’s harder for African American women to report campus sexual assaults, even at mostly black schools”. Racism fuels abuse and Title IX is not free of white privilege by any stretch of the imagination. All victims – regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, citizenship – deserve equal treatment and respect.
Title IX investigations are supposed to be unbiased, of course, but that does not mean victims cannot feel empowered and supported through the process. For more information on what Title IX is and how it functions, visit knowyourix.org. If you would like to know what you can do to defend Title IX and the rights of victims of sexual violence, check out This is Our Moment to Step Forward. If you are in school and want to better understand your Title IX rights and the responsibilities of your school as they pertain to sexual assault, harassment and dating violence, read “What you should know about reporting sexual assault on your college campus and your Title IX rights” by Tobias Salinger and Laura Bult.
UPDATE: Betsy DeVos has officially rescinded Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assault and released new, temporary guidelines.
Her current “plan leaves…survivors with more questions than answers” but, as is consistent with the administration she serves, it will do far more to protect offenders than victims. “For survivors of sexual assault, DeVos’ idea of ‘fairness’ in dealing with Title IX is not particularly fair at all” (Tara Wanda Merrigan).
Photo Credit (top): Daily News, Getty Image
Graphic (bottom): knowyourix.org