Education Secretary Betsy DeVos scrapped Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual assault Friday after concluding they were unfair to students accused of rape.
The 2011 Obama directive was intended to address long-standing issues with how schools nationwide were handling sexual assault claims, problems which included sluggish investigations, underreported statistics, and poor treatment of assault survivors.
Under those regulations, universities which failed to quickly and effectively investigate campus sexual assault were found to be in violation of Title IX, which prevents sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools — putting them at risk of losing crucial federal funding.
One of the more controversial components of the Obama rules lowered the burden of proof for sexual assault cases. They directed schools to approach sexual misconduct allegations with the presumption that the accuser was telling the truth, putting the burden on the defendant to prove his or her innocence.
DeVos, speaking to students and faculty at George Mason University in Virginia earlier this month, said that the new rules were unfair to students accused of sexual assault, a conclusion she announced after meeting with men’s rights groups, sexual assault survivors, and school administrators in July.
The presumption is now reversed, placing the burden of proof back on survivors to prove that they were assaulted.
Advocates say that DeVos’ actions will have a chilling effect on whether students who have been sexually assaulted come forward. An estimated 80 percent of sexual assaults among female college students went unreported, compared to 67 percent of non-students, according to a 2013 study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“Before the Department of Education began taking sexual assault seriously, schools routinely violated survivor’s’ rights and pushed them out of school,” wrote Know Your IX, a national survivor and youth led campaign aiming to end sexual violence in schools, in a statement. “Survivors stayed silent for fear that the act of reporting to our school would be more traumatic than the assault itself.”