The Trump administration issued new Title IX rules Wednesday, adding protections for those accused of sexual assault and misconduct.
The ‘controversial’ changes are supported by those who view them as giving due process to suspects but brought concerns among women’s rights groups that they could prevent victims from coming forward.
The new guidelines released Wednesday are part of an overhaul by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on how such cases are treated under Title IX, which often left a patchwork of varying processes from school to school. The new rules are expected to go into effect Aug. 14.
“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in a statement.
“This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process. We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation’s schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues,” she said.
The new rules under Title IX ensure alleged student perpetrators have the presumption of innocence throughout the disciplinary process and the right to see all evidence collected against them. Those accused are also guaranteed to cross-examine their accusers through an attorney or representative.
The changes also narrowed the meaning of sexual misconduct to unwelcome conduct “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” it “denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity.”
“It looks like the Department of Education’s new regulations will ensure greater due process for students involved in certain types of cases, but universities should already be providing these important protections in all cases of serious non-academic misconduct,” said Samantha Harris, the vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties group said.
Groups supporting sexual assault victims said the new rules allow for those victims to potentially be retraumatized through certain aspects of the investigation progress and will prevent them from coming forward with claims.
National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves said she will fight the new rules in court.
“[Victims] refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug,” Goss Graves said.
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