Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met for 90 minutes with survivors of campus sexual assault last week, and then went on to a meeting with men’s rights activists to discuss dismantling Title IX enforcement guidelines that combat campus sexual assault. The men meeting with DeVos claim to be victims of false accusations of campus assault.

One in five women and one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted while in college, and 90 percent of survivors will never report the attack.  “It’s not equitable for the department to meet with the ‘wrongly accused’ for 90 minutes because these men’s rights activists are speaking on behalf of the statistic that 2 to 8 percent are wrongfully accused,” said Fabiana Diaz, a 23-year-old survivor of sexual assault who spoke with DeVos. “It’s simply not equitable.”

One of the men’s rights groups DeVos met with is the National Coalition for Men, which Jess Davidson, managing director of End Rape on Campus, classifies as a hate group. “They have viciously and very intentionally harassed rape survivors online by exposing their identities and posting pictures of them,” said Davidson. “From our perspective, they have no place in a conversation about civil rights, and it shows that this administration will either turn a blind eye to or actively participate in hostility toward survivors of sexual violence.”

According to attendees, deputy assistant secretary for the department’s Office of Civil Rights Candice Jackson did not apologize for her recent comments in the New York Times accusing 90 percent of people who report sexual assault of not really having been raped. Jackson, a controversial pick for the position, is a critic of programs that aim to assist people of color and has called the women who accused President Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.”

More than 100 survivors wrote a letter to DeVos urging her to protect survivors, writing, “From the moment we were raped or assaulted, the question of who protects us has haunted us all. Collectively, we represent thousands of instances of institutional failure at colleges, universities, and K-12 schools. We suffered immensely, as did our academics, relationships, and overall well-being. Institutional betrayal forced many of us, and countless others, to leave school.”

While the survivors in the meeting with DeVos say they felt heard, they did not feel that there was a resolution in their fight to convince DeVos to protect survivors. Advocates pointed out that the Education Department even under Barrack Obama did not have the proper resources to combat the epidemic, and that it has largely been students, not the government, forcing their schools to be held to account.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights currently has 339 open investigations into colleges and universities accused of mishandling reports of campus sexual assault. Advocates recently met with Members of Congress to urge them to pass the Patsy T. Mink Gender Equity in Education Act of 2017, which would put more federal funding towards helping schools uphold Title IX.

The Feminist Majority Foundation recently filed a major federal lawsuit against the University of Mary Washington (UMW) and UMW’s former president Richard Hurley for their systemic failure to protect students from a sexually hostile school environment, sexual harassment, sex-based cyber assaults, and threats of physical and sexual violence, in violation of Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The lawsuit was brought only after the Department of Education failed to release any resolution almost two years after FMF and students filed a Title IX complaint.  “It is outrageous that after two years, there has been no official response by OCR concerning the serious complaint,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of FMF. “Now with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the Department of Education, the future of Title IX enforcement by OCR is even more uncertain.”

Media Resources:  Huffington Post 7/12/17, 7/13/17; National Sexual Violence Resource Center; Feminist Majority Foundation 5/11/17, 6/26/17.

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