The Trump Administration has scrapped another Obama-era policy, this time instituting new federal guidelines on campus sexual assault investigations. Following up on a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earlier this month, the Department of Education has issued a new interim policy that strengthens the evidence standards for schools to act on sexual assault allegations. Under the old policy, schools could take action with only a "preponderance of the evidence" that an assault had occurred. Now, schools and administrators can choose between that standard or the higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence" before taking action.
DeVos argued that the old standard was too vague and often led to the Department of Education being "weaponized to work against schools and against students." She also said the weak evidence standards led to more false allegations and drawn-out appeals processes that hurt both the accusers and the accused.
But some advocacy groups are unhappy with the new policy. Martha Pacelli, manager of violence prevention and community education at the Houston Area Women's Center, tells KTRH this move feels like a "step backward." "Title IX offices were never set up to have a standard of evidence that a courtroom would have," she says. "The point was to support survivors and also for schools to really honestly report their assault statistics."
Pacelli worries that this new policy may lead to less reporting of actual assaults, which are already an underreported crime. "One in four women will be sexually assaulted on a college campus, and that's just based on the reported cases," she says.
But the Department of Education cautions that this new policy is only temporary, while the agency takes public input on a set of permanent guidelines that could take several months.