Title IX changes are going to hurt those that need the enforcement the most| Nov 28, 2018
United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is pushing forward Title IX reform that would strip victims of sexual abuse of some of their current rights. The newly proposed reforms reduce the liability of colleges in reporting sexual abuse on campuses by removing their obligation to act on issues of sexual abuse when they occur off campus.
Does this really apply to the University?
Does it apply to schools without billions of dollars in endowment?
Many instances of sexual abuse don’t happen on campus. They happen off campus — at bars, social venues, and clubs. The eating clubs aren’t technically a part of campus, but the University is required to investigate and report any incidences of sexual abuse that occur there as part of the Obama administration’s Title IX regulations. Under the DeVos regulations, the University would no longer be legally obligated to act on any reports of sexual harassment, as it did in the case of Tiger Inn in 2014. There are few places, if any, where sexual abuse would be more likely to happen than the Street.
Of course, this is the University’s purely legal obligation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the University will drop existing protections for students now that some Title IX regulations have been rolled back, but that’s also because the University has a reputation to maintain. It wouldn’t look good for U.S. News & World Report's No. 1 U.S. university to become embroiled in sex scandals because it is now allowed to look the other way for abuse that happens off campus.
We are privileged to attend a university that’s forced to actively make campus life safer and more secure, but not all students are going to have the same privilege. What about those at large state schools where cases of sexual abuse are already prone to slip through the cracks or be underreported? What about those at schools whose endowments are not $25.9 billion? What about those without the same privilege as us? As Princeton students, we don’t typically acknowledge the fact that we are living a totally different college experience than most people do because of the University’s active desire to increase its prestige domestically and internationally.
A change in Title IX will disproportionately affect less wealthy schools which may not have the means or resources to offer the same protections and services to their students that the University will offer even if Title IX’s legal obligations are lessened. These schools are not encouraging sexual assault, but they simply don’t have the means beyond federal funding to investigate the issue on campus and to take action accordingly. The University, with its $25.9 billion dollar endowment, well-connected alumni, and strongly-opinionated student body, would likely face severe public backlash, as it has in the past, if it rolled back its Title IX protections for students. With a faculty-student sex scandal in 2017 and two others in 2014, the University’s public image has the potential to be tainted more by lax Title IX enforcement, making the relaxation of policy all the more unlikely. So yes, we’re probably safe, but the fate of policy for those outside the Orange Bubble is unknown.
Another significant change in DeVos’s proposed Title IX reform is allowing the alleged abuser to cross-examine the alleged victim. The Department of Education’s proposal is grossly unfair to victims of sexual abuse. Victims would be obligated to not only speak to their abuser, but to be interrogated by them, with the abuser’s intent being to find flaws in the victim’s description of the incident.
Proponents of this policy claim that accuser-accused cross-examinations would help avoid false accusations. Even if this claim was true, cross-examinations would much more severely harm the victims than help protect the accused. Only 2 percent of sexual abuse accusations are proven to be false accusations. Yet, those in favor of this policy have dramatized the existence of false accusations to the point where policy is protecting the 2 percent falsely accused more than the 98 percent of real victims.
False accusations are wrong and the accused person’s rights have to be protected, but we shouldn’t re-traumatize victims in trial, making them less likely to report an incident in the first place. The proposed changes to Title IX discount the emotional wellbeing of victims of abuse, with direct cross examinations creating unnecessary, unjust distress for victims.
DeVos’s Title IX reform seeks to hinder the progress that today’s #MeToo movement has made in creating transparency and exposing corruption and abuse at the highest levels of our society. With a nationally covered faculty-student sex scandal in 2017, the wound is fresh for Princeton, hopefully making the University more keen on preventing future incidents. However, news headlines may not spur policy action at other schools without the “fortune” of prestige-driven metrics. We may only attend Princeton, but that shouldn’t stop us from caring about the well-being of students elsewhere in the country. After all, we are “in the nation's service and the service of humanity.”
Jasman Singh is a freshman from Hightstown, New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org