Yesterday Betsy DeVos spoke about campus sexual assault. My greatest concern about the Department of Education after the election was that the Office of Civil Rights would be abolished or made toothless. I was afraid that our most vulnerable students would be in more danger. Today’s speech does not make me feel any better.
Here’s a piece of her speech:
This speech may or may not signal a significant change in policy, one that will harm many victims of sexual assault.
In any instance of judgement we must err on one side or the other. Our justice system is designed to err on the side of the accused as we must presume innocence until proven guilty (although that assumes a lack of bias that is awfully naive).
As I read this speech I found that the argument here is that we should be erring on the side of the accused in the cases of campus sexual assault. That’s what we’ve done for generations. It clearly isn’t working.
I will argue, loudly, forcefully, with great vehemence, that we should err on the side of the victim in these cases.
The concern that a students will lose their ‘ability to purse their education’ is weak. Students who are kicked out of school for sexual abuse (still a minority of those committing sexual abuse) have other opportunities. They may miss completing a degree at their chosen institution, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost the ‘ability to pursue their education’. Victims, however, have often lost that ability as well as the ability to engage in meaningful relationships, trust others, focus on a job, and on and on.
DeVos shared a story of a young man, the first in his family to attend college, who was kicked out just weeks from graduation for sexual misconduct. The way she tells the story, he was wronged. That’s quite possible. We will never get it 100% right. We are human and fallible. He said:
Yup. Which is why so many women and girls (and men and boys) never speak up about having been sexually abused or assaulted. Because what will be said about them is horrifying. Learning to survive after sexual assault is hard enough. Doing it while be attacked by others for speaking up is nigh on impossible. I have such immense respect for victims who do speak up.
The above quote is from a woman who was sexually assaulted at her college. She may be meaning the university system when she said this but I believe system should be society. Victims feel victimized again and again when they speak up in our country.
On the plus side, a day like today makes me grateful to be in the classroom with my third graders rather than in the Department of Education reviewing that speech. I don’t believe anything I could have said would have made a difference. That would have been hell.