Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told Congress during her confirmation hearing in January that she wished to “address the needs of all… students.” And now that appears to include young men accused of rape.
On Thursday, DeVos will meet privately with men who claim they were the targets of false sexual assault allegations while they were students. It’s part of a controversial rethinking of Obama-era guidance to schools on how to handle sexual assault accusations and investigations under Title IX — or risk losing federal funding.
DeVos will also meet with survivors of sexual assault, higher education officials, and their legal teams, but the fact that she’s giving men’s rights groups and those accused of sexual assault a seat at the table has stoked outrage among women’s advocates.
Among those with whom DeVos will meet is retired Navy serviceman Joseph Roberts, who has lobbied Congress on behalf of a group called Save Our Heroes. The group fights what it claims are the “injustices” of the military’s sexual assault “witch hunt” that is driven by “a flurry of irrational emotion.”
She will reportedly also meet members of a group called Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, or SAVE, a nonprofit dedicated to “protect all victims and end false allegations” that has come under fire from the Southern Poverty Law Center. A spokesperson for the National Coalition for Men, a so-called men’s rights group, confirmed that it will have a representative present at the meeting with DeVos but declined to provide further comment.
The meeting comes shortly after a New York Times article about Candice Jackson, the woman DeVos picked to oversee civil rights at the Department of Education. Jackson, who once claimed she was discriminated against because she is white, expressed her sympathy for men and boys who feel as though their careers or reputations have been ruined by what they say are false sexual assault allegations. She was also vocal in her condemnation of the women who came forward to accuse President Donald Trump of sexual assault, labelling them “fake victims.”
Jackson appeared to tell the Times that all but a small fraction of campus sexual assault allegations are in some way fraudulent.
“The accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of, ‘We were both drunk,’ ‘We broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” she said.
A survey by the American Association of Universities in 2015 found that 11.7 percent of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or threats of physical force while enrolled in school. And research has repeatedly found that while sexual assault is underreported generally, it’s far more underreported on campus; the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2014 found that 80 percent of sexual assaults among female college students were not reported, compared to 67 percent among non-students.
More than 100 survivors of sexual assault wrote an open letter to DeVos in Teen Vogue Wednesday, asking her whose needs she was really attempting to address.
“For us, this is personal, and traumatizing,” the letter said. “We cannot imagine a more cruel or misguided policy agenda than one that withdraws protections from vulnerable students — especially coming from the administration of a man who has been repeatedly accused of committing sexual violence himself.”