Let’s rewind to 2011. I’m 13, I’m covered in Dr. Pepper Lip and glitter, I’m gonna tell Freckles Patrick that I’m in love with him and I want his big babies – wait, I’m out of the way. I’ll talk to you later about my personal life – the most important thing is that Obama’s Ministry of Education sent you a letter in 2011, ladies and gentlemen.
Title IX, of course, already existed before this letter and was created by Congress as part of the amendments to the Education Act of 1972. But Obama’s letter was a call to action to remind the universities of their responsibility to protect students in the context of change, as there was a debate at the time about sexual harassment – particularly with regard to athletics in the universities. In the letter, the Obama administration mentions undesirable sexual behavior, including requests for sexual favors and other verbal, non-verbal or physical acts of a sexual nature, as examples of behavior that constitutes a form of sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces civil rights law, uses the same language. This definition lays the foundation for the way in which universities deal with – usually bad – cases of sexual abuse and how they will do so in the coming years. But since last Wednesday, that definition has changed.
The Trump administration has published gender non-discrimination in federally funded educational programmes or activities. These new rules change many of the rules about what is considered sexual violence and how it is treated in the university buildings. The changes in this document are incredibly detrimental to the victims of the attacks, mainly young women, and will result in a misogynistic legal system, which often protects white men, being favoured over all the others. A simple change in the definition of sexual harassment will have profound and crippling consequences.
According to the new rules:
Sexual harassment is conduct based on sex that satisfies one or more of the following conditions:
(1) the employee of the recipient makes the provision of assistance, benefits or services of the recipient conditional upon the person engaging in unwanted sexual conduct;
(2) unwanted conduct defined by a reasonable person as being so serious, widespread and objectively offensive as to effectively deprive the person of equal access to the recipient’s educational programme or activities; or
(3) sexual coercion, as defined in 20 U.S.C. 1092(f)(6)(A)(v), partner violence as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(a)(10), domestic violence as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(a)(8), or criminal harassment as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(a)(30).
At first glance, it doesn’t seem so harmful. In particular, we include dating and domestic violence, so they fall under the jurisdiction of the university – that’s great! But the question here is exactly what’s at stake. Every word here has a meaning.
Compared to the language of the Obama administration, this new definition is much stricter when it comes to what oppression can be. While Obama’s definition is broad enough to include sexual harassment, the Trump administration now defines sexual harassment as sexual harassment that is given for consideration only or that is so serious, widespread and objectively offensive that it effectively denies an individual equal access. Any formal complaint that does not meet these definitions may be legally ignored and rejected.
It’s not fair. Imagine the suspect and his or her lawyers spending a day’s work trying to find definitive evidence that someone raped you is hard enough, but survivors now have the extra burden of proof – if they have been brutally but generally not prosecuted, their case can be dismissed. If there were many of them, but they were not the subject of serious harassment, their case can be dismissed. If the treatment they have received is not objectively offensive, their case may be closed without further action.
These changes to the definition mean that the suspect is likely to use these words to his or her advantage – under the words serious, penetrating and objectively offensive, sexual violence can be ignored at a lower level. Diseases at lower levels can also affect the survivor’s ability to feel safe in the educational environment. In fact, they’re ignoring the new rules.
Harvard law professor Janet Halley agrees.
We have argued that it is very bad to be tough and pervasive because it is too narrowly defined in terms of behaviour, Mr Halley said. This is what it says here: If it is difficult, but not ubiquitous, it is not included in the illegal behaviour. Or if it’s customary, but it doesn’t matter.
Other experts see it the same way.
These new rules require the presumption of innocence and thus the presumption that the accused student is lying, according to Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel at the Law Centre for the Protection of Victims’ Rights. It is discriminatory to adopt this standard for sexual harassment, but not for other types of student misconduct.
And that’s the damage that only a change of definition can do. These rules pose an even greater danger. According to Article 106(45)(b)(6)(i) of the Regulation, colleges must provide for direct hearings with cross-examination. Given the trauma that prevailed under the Obama administration, the regulations also rule out the necessary involvement of investigative procedures. These two changes will distract survivors from the idea of appearing in a landscape where they are rare anyway. The demand for cross-examination favors wealthy students who can afford the best lawyers, and without research into information about the trauma, the psychological impact that the trauma may have on the ability of survivors to remember information can be ignored.
These rules enter into force on the fourteenth. August in force. Many of them appealed to the Minister of Education and Social Affairs, Betsy DeVos, not only because of the content of the new rules, but also because of the rules that are currently being published.
Our education system is in an unprecedented crisis, said the Democrats in the Education and Labor Committee of the House. But instead of focusing on helping students, educators and schools in the struggle [KOVID-19], Secretary of State DeVos puts student safety at stake.
Tell Carson, Director, do you know Nine? I agree.
Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have once again proven that they are not interested in supporting surviving students and their rights, Carson said. The latter rule makes it more difficult for victims to report sexual abuse, reduces the responsibility of schools to ignore or hide cases of sexual harassment, and creates a biased reporting process that favours respondents and schools over victims’ access to education.
These are just some of the changes to the provisions of Title IX, the effects of which will be felt over the years. The effects will be felt most strongly by people with colour, people with disabilities and people living with LGBT-CV+. The new rules also weaken the accountability of schools – they will no longer be responsible for sexual abuse at off-campus events or other such nuances.
These new rules spit in the face of victims of sexual violence. As a survivor of sexual violence, I myself am shocked by this government and its actions. My attack was not part of Trump’s new policy, but it certainly prevented me from fully enjoying my education and feeling safe with people on and off campus. Clearly, my injury is unfounded. This administration is not concerned with the rule of law, but with silencing women.
Jenna Edwards writes about culture, media and gender politics for The Pitt News. You can write to him at [email protected]