News & Politics

Trump Education Secretary DeVos Pressured to Keep Obama 'Rape Culture' Guidelines

Betsy DeVos Betsy DeVos Confirmation Hearing, Washington DC, USA - 17 Jan 2017. (Rex Features via AP Images)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has driven the Left crazy in recent weeks, by reining in some of the worst excesses of President Obama’s Department of Education (DOE). On Wednesday, the attorneys general of 19 states and the District of Columbia — all Democrats — sent a letter requesting DeVos return to the debunked and unfair Obama “rape culture” approach on sexual assault. In fact, they almost accused her of endorsing rape — a disgusting political tactic the Left has used to smear due process advocates in recent weeks.

Pointing to specific comments from the DOE Office of Civil Rights (OCR) acting assistant secretary, Candice Jackson, the attorneys general claimed that her comments “communicate to survivors of campus sexual assault that the Department does not take their concerns seriously and that it is not committed to continuing its current efforts to combat this epidemic on our college campuses.”

These attorneys general seem to believe that by reversing Obama’s policy, DeVos and Jackson were endangering the safety and lives of women on college campuses. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the most notorious excesses of the Obama DOE was a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the OCR to colleges across America. This letter was not a law, or even an official regulation, but “regulatory dark matter” by which the OCR effectively forced colleges to adopt a new policy — threatening that if they did not, they would lose federal funding.

The “Dear Colleague” letter ordered schools to investigate claims of sexual assault on their own, rather than turning them over to police. It also urged schools to do so with a bias against the accused, under the guise of fighting “sexual discrimination” under Title IX of the 1973 Higher Education Act. This was absurd on multiple levels, because Title IX was never intended to regulate sexual behavior among students, but only abuses by faculty or staff.

But the more sinister side of this “regulatory dark matter” was its effect on students accused of sexual assault. As K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, Jr. explained in their book The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities, the common statistic — that one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college — is extremely misleading.

According to DOE figures, there are about 10 million women enrolled as undergraduates. If this statistic were true, 2 million of them would be sexually assaulted while at college, which means between 400,000 and 500,000 assaults per year. For comparison, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports reported a grand total of 116,645 rapes in the entire United States (a nation of 160 million women) in 2014.

Data required by the 1990 Clery Act revealed that between 2012 and 2014, universities reported an annual average of between 4,558 and 5,335 sexual assaults. New Clery Act data released in June revealed that nearly 9 in 10 college campuses reported a grand total of zero instances of rape in 2015. Could there be a clearer denunciation of the “rape culture” narrative?

But many college administrators have been indoctrinated — through “Know Your IX” trainings — to think campus sexual assault is an endemic problem, and that nearly every alleged victim of sexual assault is telling the truth, no matter the evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, they fear that sexual assault is carried out by serial rapists, so anyone accused of sexual assault must be found guilty to stop the epidemic. This narrative comes from misleading figures from a retired University of Massachusetts psychologist, David Lisak.

Each step in this narrative makes it more difficult for a man accused of sexual assault to defend himself. Worse, when colleges handle these cases on their own, they are not held accountable to the due process rules of a courtroom, so the accused is denied basic rights to representation, to face his accuser, and even to present his own evidence.

Case after case has emerged in recent years, well documented in The Campus Rape Frenzy.

In 2012, Cincinnati’s Xavier University expelled black basketball star Dez Wells for allegedly raping another student, even as a contemporaneous criminal investigation convinced the county prosecutor the allegation was false. Days after Wells was expelled for rape, a grand jury found no probable cause to convict him.

The prosecutor made a public statement exonerating Wells, but the myth of this black basketball star being a rapist survived, and two women yelled jabs at him during a basketball game in March 2015. “Dez is still a [expletive] RAPIST,” one declared.

Another black athlete, football player Lanston Tanyi, was accused of rape twice, and even the school — North Carolina’s Appalachian State University — had to rule in his favor because the accusers were not credible. But after more than 100 students protested these decisions, holding signs reading “End Rape Culture,” an administrator threw out the ruling for Tanyi — subjecting him to “double jeopardy” for the same offense.

Despite not finding Tanyi guilty of sexual assault, the school did find him guilty of harassment for allegedly laughing at his accuser some days after the now-ruled-to-be-unproved assault. The school removed him from the football team.

In the spring of 2014, an anonymous black man was accused of sexual assault by a female fellow student for an unwanted kiss attempt. Before anything could be proved, the school moved him out of his dorm immediately, allegedly for the accuser’s safety. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and attempted suicide after this false accusation got him removed from his room and demonized by society.

The “rape culture” narrative has become so embedded on the Left and in college campuses that stories like these fall on deaf ears. Activists accuse anyone questioning the narrative of “victim blaming.”

Another recent incident with DeVos illustrated this closed-mindedness. Early this month, Politico reported that Trump’s Education secretary would meet with students wrongfully accused of sexual assault, and groups advocating for due process rights for the accused on college campuses.

“This is the first time that there’s been an acknowledgment … that there’s another side, another part of this equation — and the other part of this equation is the people who are accused,” Andrew Miltenberg, an attorney who represents such students, told Politico. Last Thursday, DeVos met with groups critical of Obama’s Title IX guidance, like Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), and the National Coalition for Men.

Liberals immediately blasted these groups as “trolls,” “men’s rights activists,” and “designated misogynists.” That last attack, by LGBT activist Amy Siskind, also smeared Alliance Defending Freedom as a “hate group.”

The “trolls” comment came from Slate’s Christina Cauterucci, who also attacked ESPN’s “30 for 30” Fantastic Lies documentary about the Duke lacrosse rape hoax. As late as March 2016 (almost a decade after the Duke lacrosse story had been demonstrated false), Cauterucci called the documentary “bizarre” because it “expects the viewer to root for a bunch of accused rapists.” Rooting for people who were falsely accused of one of the most infamous crimes is anything but “bizarre,” but to the “woke” social justice warriors peddling the “rape culture” narrative, it’s unfathomable.

Who were these groups DeVos met with? The National Coalition for Men is actually a “men’s rights” group, but men do face specific issues, and they also have rights. This coalition is far from misogynist, however, as it fights for men suffering from issues like domestic violence, paternity fraud, or particularly bad divorce settlements.

SAVE and FACE, however, advocate on behalf of those accused of sexual assault, to ensure they receive due process. FACE was actually started by mothers of accused students who were deprived of due process. The group also noted that some women have been falsely accused as well.

Contrary to the Left’s exaggerations, none of these groups think rape is acceptable — they just want due process in such important cases. Due process is better for true victims of sexual assault as well, as when a perpetrator is convicted in a fair setting, there is no doubt as to his guilt. Furthermore, all a college can do is expel a student, while the police can deliver long prison sentences — actually protecting the women who might be assaulted later.

But the Left was angry at Trump’s DOE for another reason as well. Last week, OCR acting assistant secretary Candace Jackson attacked sexual assault accusations in an interview with The New York Times. “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.'”

Jackson, a sexual assault victim herself, apologized for the remarks. “I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience,” she explained. “What I said was flippant, and I’m sorry. All sexual assault must be taken seriously — which has always been my position and will always be the position of this Department.”

While the “90 percent” figure certainly overestimated the amount of entirely baseless accusations, many have been accused in such cases, and The Campus Rape Frenzy tells the stories of many young man who were expelled and worse for “sexual assault” when the sex in question was demonstrably voluntary.

In one such case, an anonymous student expelled from Amherst College for sexual assault was denied the ability to present evidence in court because re-litigating the matter “would impose emotional and psychological trauma” on the woman who accused him of sexual assault.

In that case, the accuser sent text messages to a friend expressing remorse for oral sex she had performed on the man she accused — a sexual act he did not remember. Shortly thereafter, she texted her friend about inviting a separate man with a “military trained bod” into her room and having sex with him. She even texted, “it’s pretty obvi I wasn’t an innocent bystander.”

The fact that a judge considered this woman’s feelings worth more protection than the accused student’s due process right to defend himself is sickening.

Even so, the pressure is mounting as liberals urge DeVos to “stand with survivors of sexual assault.” A petition with that language has garnered over 22,000 signatures on CREDO Action, as of Thursday night. Hundreds of protesters flocked to her speech in Denver on Wednesday.

Even so, there is no sign DeVos is backing down. On July 11, she wrote a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), saying the Obama OCR “had descended into a pattern of overreaching, of setting out to punish and embarrass institutions rather than work with them to correct civil rights violations and of ignoring public input prior to issuing new rules.”

DeVos added that she is “returning” the OCR “to its role as a neutral, impartial, investigative agency.” (And indeed, she has taken major steps in this direction.)

In light of what has happened on college campuses in the past six years, this was an understatement. DeVos should continue the work of reversing Obama’s overreach, no matter what the attorney generals and the Left say.