Editorial: Changes to Title IX hurt victims of sexual violence

Photo via Time.com | Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with the media after a series of listening sessions about campus sexual violence, Thursday, July 13, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Trump administration has proved again that it greatly prefers hampering social progress to fostering it.

Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of Education, announced that the Education Department is officially rescinding Obama-era Title IX sexual assault guidelines for colleges.

The guidelines were implemented to combat college environments that underreport instances of sexual assault. The 2011 changes lowered the standard of evidence required in college investigations, so that if more than 50 percent of the evidence indicated the crime occurred, it would be considered proven.

There’s no official replacement for the guidelines yet, though there are interim guidelines provided by the Education Department that allow colleges to hold investigations to a higher standard if they choose — a “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

How this will ultimately affect colleges’ investigations, specifically community colleges like City College, remains unclear until a replacement is made, but the reasons for the change signal a very troubling shift in priorities.

It may seem like a small change, but it reflects a shift in ideology.

DeVos’ goal is to give more protections to those accused of crimes. It caters to a movement that believes many students accused of sexual violence are innocent and punished before a fair investigation has taken place. The change reverts standards to a higher burden of proof.

The current administration is drawing the brunt of its attention to protecting the accused, but it’s ignoring the monumentally bigger concern — protecting and supporting the victims of sexual violence.

For years, the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses has gone widely ignored, and the majority of the crimes are never reported.

Partly, this stems from a lack of confidence in the investigation system — that a victim can go through the ordeal of reporting a crime, go through the inquiry process and still end up without a resolution.

When the 2011 guidelines were put into place, the tone was set for one of the biggest social issues of the era. Unheard victims of sexual assault and harassment on our campus and others were encouraged that there was a change coming; that if they spoke up, someone would listen and believe them.

Should investigations be fair to both parties? Of course. Whether this guideline change will even improve investigations is a different issue. But by giving the accused top billing, the administration is putting a disproportionate focus on a much less real issue.

This new change in policy signals a shift in the wrong direction. Whom will this administration protect? Only time can answer that question. In the meantime, in this tenuous social climate, DeVos’ ideological focus is unquestionably a step backward.

Victims need to be reassured that justice, and by extension, the safety of college campuses, is the primary concern.

Victims are the priority. Ending sexual violence is the priority.

Pretending there is a bigger priority than combatting sexual assault is unfathomably disrespectful, misguided and counterproductive.