DeVos’ policy a setback for sexual assault survivors


Photo courtesy of Sarah Tillman

Baraka Aboul-Magd

Betsy Devos, the United States Secretary Of Education, has proposed a new sexual assault policy that narrows the definition of sexual assault and makes it harder to prove harassment and assault claims. This is a major step backward; sexual assault is already a horrific experience to go through but to tell survivors that what they went through isn’t real and deny them the help they deserve is abhorrent.

Sexual assault is not just “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex” that “denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity,” as it is defined in the new policy. Sexual assault is really any type of sexual activity you don’t consent to, according to Planned Parenthood, meaning that it doesn’t have to deny you any type of education to qualify.

We should not have our school administration telling us that what we experienced is not sexual assault because it didn’t affect our education or that the school isn’t liable because we didn’t go to a school official with the right authority. The school should always be held responsible because that is the only way to get victims the help they need and hold abusers accountable.

In Devos’ policy, she states that a victim must “go to a school official who is capable of taking the right measures,” but what if we are not comfortable confiding in that school official? Why can’t we go to a trusted adult who we feel safe around and trust they will help us make the right decision?

Her policy tells us what will count as sexual assault. It tells us that if our assault didn’t clearly deny us access to education, it is not as severe as we feel. If it goes into effect, schools will have the ultimate power over the level of enforcement of sexual assault policy.

According to the policy, the school is also only legally liable if “its response to the sexual harassment is clearly unreasonable in light of known circumstances.” It is wrong to only make the school liable under those circumstances especially if a victim is not ready to share their experience. Schools are already wholly irresponsible when dealing with sexual assault on campus, and lessening the burden on them to act will only make this problem worse.

This policy will create an environment on college campuses in which abusers are more protected than victims. Anyone who has been sexually assaulted, no matter the degree, should not have to undergo mediation or give the accused access to all evidence if the victim decides to go forward. Mediation is extremely inappropriate for these circumstances because it makes the victim face the assaulter and relive the most painful experience of their life. If a victim decides to come forward and undergo the pain and abuse that comes with a sexual assault trial, the only required contact between the assaulter and victim should be in court or through lawyers.