Do students accused of sexual assault need more protections?

Do students accused of sexual assault need more protections?

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The New York Times reported Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is planning to dramatically change the federal rules regarding campus sexual assault. The new guidelines would increase protections for students accused of sexual assault and harassment. Opponents argue the new guidelines will only provide support and comfort to predators, and fail to protect actual victims. But proponents of DeVos' plan say the changes would protect students who have not been formally charged with any crimes. What do you think?

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The New York Times explains the new rules: 

The proposed rules, obtained by The New York Times, narrow the definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses. They would also establish a higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly addressed complaints.
...The new rules would adopt a new Supreme Court definition of “sexual harassment” that appears to be reserved for repeated complaints or the most egregious allegations. The new rules would define sexual harassment to mean “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”

In a speech in 2017, DeVos explained her rationale in rolling back some of the campus rules. Per The Cut:

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said in a speech at George Mason University in Virginia. She pledged to replace the “failed system” with a “workable, effective, and fair system” that does more for both sexual-assault victims and the accused.
“Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” she said.

Advocates for students accused of sexual assault feel rules set in place by the Obama administration are too harsh and lead to unfair punishment of students who have not been charged with any crimes.

The Obama guidance has been criticized over the years by those who think it is too harsh on the accused. “On campuses throughout the country, I’ve seen firsthand how colleges and universities are wrongfully implementing their own kangaroo courts to adjudicate accusations of sexual misconduct and destroying the lives of wrongfully accused male students,” said Andrew Miltenberg, a lawyer whose clients include many young men accused of sexual assault on campus. “Title IX was meant to be a tool for fairness, not a means for colleges and universities to micromanage students’ sex lives.”

Advocates for victims of sexual assault feel these new guidelines will only make it harder for victims to come forward to report their assault. From The Detroit Free Press

"Is ruining lives your version of a back-to-school welcome?" Morgan McCaul, a survivor of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, tweeted as news of the change broke on Wednesday evening.
"When we define policy about criminal sexual misconduct, it is imperative that we consider victims first," she told the Free Press later. "Limiting the availability of justice for complainants is concerning and reckless, especially in today’s climate."

While they represent a fraction of total reported assaults, there are several instances where students falsely accused of sexual assault were harshly punished using Obama-era rules. Forbes detailed one such story:

A feature story in The Atlantic magazine last year described how a female student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst got high with a male student, voluntarily performed oral sex on him and then afterward felt she had been sexually assaulted. The woman filed charges with local police who dropped her case but the school took her allegations seriously, placed restrictions on the male student and then suspended him and barred him from living in campus housing. The male student wound up leaving UMass.
The new DeVos regulations would allow schools to choose their own evidentiary standard. They could stick with a preponderance of the evidence or use a higher standard like “clear and convincing.”

Many people took to Twitter to denounce the new rules, including actress and singer Cher.

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