U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos plans to rescind the Obama-era guidelines on how to handle sexual assaults at schools. She made the announcement on Sept. 22.
The guidelines established in 2011 under the Obama administration pushed colleges and universities to ght sexual assault and sexual violence on campuses. These specific rules are outlined in the law known as Title IX.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education and requires schools to have an established procedure for handling cases of sexual discrimination, harassment and violence. Every school that receives federal funding is affected, including Georgia College.
GC Women’s Center Director Jennifer Graham said that Devos’ rollback will not largely affect GC. Graham stated that she was not surprised that the current presidential administration essentially “undid” the 2011 guidance of the Obama administration.
Because of the rollback, multiple guidelines have been taken away. For example, the rule requiring colleges and universities to handle sexual assault cases within 60 days has been repealed. However, Georgia College usually aims to handle the cases within 90 days.
Another guideline no longer in effect is the rule concerning mediation. Previously, under the Obama administration guidance, mediation was not allowed as a way to handle sexual assault. Mediation occurs as a case is being handled, wherein the victim and the accused go through mediation together.
This guideline is no longer in effect, and mediation is now allowed. Graham, however, said that GC never used mediation and never will.
“It’s not a thing we had been doing here,” Graham said. “The changes allow for us to do it now, but we’re not, all of a sudden, going to start doing these things. It leaves it up to the individual school.”
Graham also said she believes that the Title IX changes discourage victims of sexual assault from speaking out.
GC’s Title IX Coordinator Cindi Johnson declined to comment on the matter.
Devos has said that her department will develop replacement Title IX guidelines that will “do a better job of balancing the rights of victims and the accused.”
According to a study published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, only between two percent
and ten percent of rape cases are false allegations. The category of “false allegations” also includes reasons like insufficient evidence, delayed reporting, victims deciding not to cooperate with investigators and inconsistencies with victims’ statements.
Despite this relatively low number of false allegations, Devos said the Obama administration guidance was unfair to the accused and says her department’s guidance will be fairer to both the victims and the accused.
Although the changes may not largely affect GC’s campus, some students still feel a lack of support for victims from the Department of Education.
“People should know how frequently this happens in college with people who you don’t think will do it,” said junior Marisa Barnes, a psychology major and sexual assault survivor. “I don’t see any sense in taking away something to help victims.”
Junior Danielle Lutin, a marketing major, echoed Graham’s thoughts, saying that she worries that taking away the Obama administration guidelines will discourage victims from coming forward.
“It’s already hard for people to come forward about sexual assaults, so it’s not good that they took away something that is supposed to help victims,” Lutin said. “It’s already hard enough for someone who goes through that, so I don’t see why it has to be harder for them.”