As I hope most of you have heard by now, the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has released her amendments to Title IX, the law that protects students from sex discrimination. Like all survivors and activists, I knew these proposed regulations would be bad. But unfortunately, they’re even more appalling and horrifying than I could have imagined. The impact that they would have on survivors is nothing short of terrifying. From not being able to report off-campus assaults to forced cross-examination by one’s rapist, DeVos’s proposed regulations are the epitome of the ignorance and anti-survivor mentality that fuels rape culture across the country.
Survivors of campus sexual assault are already at a disadvantage in every way possible. We are threatened to stay silent by university officials. We have to switch classes and dorms. We get blamed when we go forward, and we get blamed when we don’t. And what DeVos has clearly forgotten, is that when we do go forward and take action, we pretty much always lose. Because for some reason that I will never, ever understand, society still favors offenders and shuts down survivors at every possible turn. We saw it with Kavanaugh. We saw it with the election of Trump. And now, we see it with the Secretary of the Department of Education.
So, I implore everyone who reads this to please leave a comment on these proposed regulations at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=ED-2018-OCR-0064-0001. Students around the country need our voices. Because at the end of the day, our voices are the greatest weapon we have.
Now, since the government limits these comments to only 5000 characters, and because naturally my comment was way longer than that, I decided to post my full comment here, with references of course (I am a scientist, after all). Additionally, I have posted a slide showing data on the Title IX investigations at Rutgers University, which is where I attended graduate school and where I pursued a Title IX investigation against my abuser. I received this data back when I was in the middle of my Title IX investigation. As you will see, the results are startling. At a University of 50,000 students, only 14 students were even charged with the alleged conduct, and only 4 respondents were found responsible at a hearing.
I have been slitting with these numbers for several months now, not entirely sure what to do with them, but knowing that the world needed to see the reality of this. I am happy to say that I uploaded this attachment along with my comment on regulations.gov, and these data are now in the hands of the Department of Education. What they will do with them, who knows. So, just to make sure that somebody sees them, I have posted them here as well.
i will mention that the Rutgers Title IX Coordinator gave me these data freely and willingly, and firmly stated that they were public information. I’m guessing she didn’t know that I would submit them to the Department of Education. But as I’ve said all along, they were messing with the wrong girl.
Docket ID ED-2018-OCR-0064-0001
AGENCY: Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance
Like many other survivors across the nation, I am deeply concerned by the proposed rulings presented here. I experienced dating abuse throughout my time as a neuroscience graduate student at the hands of an MD/PhD student. Because of Title IX, I was able to report the crimes committed against me to my university’s Title IX office and proceed with an investigation. And because of Title IX, my abuser was held accountable for his actions, and I was given the protection and validation that I deserved. After reading the entirety of this proposed ruling, I am most disturbed by the following sections:
Proposed section 106.44(a) – pages 5-8
First, I am very concerned about proposed section 106.44(a), pages 5-8, regarding a recipient’s obligation to only investigate complaints in which the alleged incident occurred within the context of an educational program or activity. As described in this section, the rationale is that recipients may not be aware of conduct if it occurs outside of an educational program or activity. However, a recipient’s lack of knowledge of certain conduct does not preclude the recipient of its responsibility to protect its students. The Department of Education must take into account the simple fact that many assaults do not occur within an education program or activity. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the majority of assaults occur at or near the survivor’s home, which may not be considered part of the University, and only 8% of all rapes actually occur on school property.1 Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Justice’s Campus Sexual Assault Study, approximately half of all sexual assaults take place in an off-campus setting.2 This would mean that at least half of all assaults would fall outside the scope of the recipient’s authority, and more importantly, that tens of thousands of survivors would not be able to get the protection they need and deserve.
I am one of the many students who would have suffered the drastic consequences if this proposed ruling were in effect when my assault occurred. As a graduate student, my assault occurred off-campus in the apartment of my abuser. If this ruling were in effect then, I would not have been able to go forward; I would not have been afforded the protection that I deserved from my University; and my abuser would now be on track to graduate with his medical degree and have the ability to abuse patients. As demonstrated by this example, this proposed section would completely fail medical and graduate students, who often live and spend time off-campus.
Most importantly, assaults that occur outside of an education program or activity do affect the survivor’s ability to access education in every way, shape, and form. Survivors may be afraid of participating in education programs and activities out of fear that they may see their assailant. It is well-known that a survivor’s academic performance often declines after the assault,3 and that some survivors even drop out of school,4 preventing them from having access to education altogether. This effect is not contingent upon the geographic location of the assault. Thus, this proposed ruling does not uphold the underlying intention of Title IX and the very reason for which it was created – to protect a student’s ability to access education. Based on these reasons, I strongly urge the Department of Education to remove the requirement that a recipient is only obligated to investigate incidents that occur within an education program or activity.
Proposed section 106.45(B)(4)(I) – page 16
Proposed section 106.45(b)(4)(i), which would allow recipients to use either the preponderance of evidence standard or the clear and convincing standard to determine responsibility, is especially concerning to me. As mentioned, the Department reasons that a higher standard of proof may be warranted due to the negative impact of the finding of responsibility on the respondent’s reputation and career (fourth paragraph of this section). However, this argument is deeply flawed for the following reasons:
First, there is no quantitative or numerical data presented to support this bold assertion, calling into question the validity of the argument for the proposed section. Rather, it is based on several cases cited, which may not be reflective of the issue as a whole. If the basis for argument is unfounded, there is no justifiable reason to change the standard of evidence.
Second, this ruling presumes that the allegations against the respondent are false and he/she is not responsible, which would render the resulting impact on the respondent unjust and unwarranted. However, studies have irrefutably demonstrated that false allegations of assault are extremely rare, with only 2-10% of allegations being false.5 This means that at least 90% of accusations are true and that the accused individual has indeed committed the crime. Therefore, the concern that a student will be falsely accused and will unfairly suffer the consequences is nearly irrelevant.
Third and most importantly, despite the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses,6 findings of responsibility among respondents are extremely rare. Rutgers University, which uses the preponderance of evidence standard to determine responsibility, recently performed a study on the number of reports to their Title IX office; the number of resulting investigations; and the number of findings of responsibility from years 2015-2017 (see “Attachment 1 – Rutgers Title IX Data”). According to this study, only 14 respondents were charged with the alleged conduct, out of a total of 245 reports to the Title IX office during this time frame (Page 11). Out of the 33 cases that even completed the investigation process, only 4 respondents, or 12% of all accused students, were found responsible at a hearing (Page 11) – that is 4 respondents found responsible at a University of 50,000 students. Raising the standard of proof even higher will ensure that even fewer offenders, if any at all, will ever be found responsible, enabling them to remain on campus and victimize more students.
Overall, this proposed section is simply missing the point. The rights of the respondent are not what is at stake here – it is the rights of the survivor, and the university’s ability to adequately protect survivors and the student body at large. This proposed ruling will prohibit universities from being able to do just that. Therefore, I suggest that all recipients should be required to use the preponderance of evidence standard for determining responsibility in Title IX investigations.
1. “‘Scope of the Problem: Statistics.” Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem.
2. “Factors That Increase Sexual Assault Risk.” National Institute of Justice, Oct. 1, 2008, www.nij.gov/topics/crime/rape-sexual-violence/campus/pages/increased-risk.aspx.
3. Jordan, C E, et al. “An Exploration of Sexual Victimization and Academic Performance Among College Women.” Trauma Violence Abuse, vol. 15, no. 3, July 2014.
4. Mengo, Cecilia, and Beverly Black. “Violence Victimization on a College Campus: Impact on GPA and School Dropout.” Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice. , vol. 18, no. 2, May 2015.
5. Lisak, D, et al. “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: an Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases.” Violence Against Women, vol. 16, no. 12, Dec. 2010.
6. “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.
Link to entire Rutgers Title IX attachment:
Image Credit: https://www.handsoffix.org