The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Betsy DeVos plans to replace Obama-era sexual assault guidelines

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Photo by Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced on Sept. 7 that she has plans to change guidelines for how university campuses should handle sexual assault. 

The process of reporting sexual assault may be become more difficult for the survivor and accommodating to the legal rights of the accused if Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ replacement plan succeeds.

On Sept. 7, DeVos announced that she plans to replace previous guidelines for how campuses should handle sexual assault cases with a more effective system that will include a fair due process for those accused of sexual assault. According to Martha Garcia Opersteny with the Sexual Assault Resource Center, or SARC, this may affect how sexual assault is reported and legal action taken.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college and more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims in college do not report the assault. The low rates of sexual assault reports is a problem, according to Opersteny.

“It’s upsetting because we know it’s a big problem, and this is just going to make it worse,” Opersteny said. “It’s going to put another burden on sexual assault survivors to basically prove that this actually happened.”

April 4, 2011, The “Dear Colleague Letter” was released during the Obama administration to address the issue of sexual assault on campus and create a guideline for universities across the nation. DeVos’ replacement of the Obama administration’s guidelines to handle sexual assault will make it harder for sexual assault for survivors to seek justice, according to Opersteny.

“This is more about the fact that they’re saying the assailants of sexual assault, the people who commit the sexual assault are being judged in a non-jury type or non-legal type situation,” Opersteny said. “This is about taking it back a few steps from where we were.”

The American Association of University Women (AAWU) released a statement addressing DeVos’ plans to replace Obama’s guidelines, stating “Make no mistake: Title IX remains the law of the land and this announcement does not alter in any way schools’ responsibilities.”

Texas A&M students have the opportunity to reach out to the Title IX office, GLBT resource center, the university police department, and SARC when seeking help in the case of a sexual assault.

“A&M has been doing an awesome job in their procedures and working with them, in part, that’s probably why we’ve seen some backlash, and the Title IX organization having investigations,” Opersteny said.

Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center (NWCL) made a statement in a press release on Sept. 7 stating that DeVos’ announcement was not something to look over as procedural and is an attack on survivors of sexual assault.

“And it sends a frightening message to all students: your government does not have your back if your rights are violated,” Graves said in the press release. “This misguided approach signals a green light to sweep sexual assault further under the rug. We refuse to return to the days when schools could mistreat survivors with impunity.”

Opersteny said that the survivor should be involved in the process of any new changes made in the official processes of sexual assault reports.

“We believe that it is very important that sexual assault survivors be included in the process of determining what, if any, changes occur to this law,” Opersteny said.

DeVos’ statements of the intention to make the process of reporting sexual assault an act of equality for those involved will create a negative change in the current system, according the Opersteny.

“We don’t want it to change,” Opersteny said. “I know she did say it’s a process, that’s not anything that is going to happen immediately, but what we’re trying to say is that nothing should change until she gets input from all parties, especially from survivors of sexual assault.”

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