Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is under fire on Thursday as she holds three meetings on campus sexual assault—including one where she’ll hear from a fringe “men’s rights” group with a history of harassing sexual assault survivors and placing the blame for sexual and physical violence on victims.
The “listening sessions” are aimed at assessing the Obama administration’s expanded protections for students who are sexually assaulted on campus. In 2011 the Department of Education introduced guidance for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, requiring schools that receive federal funding to quickly investigate complaints of sexual assault and offer protections to survivors, and banning schools from retaliating against those who file sexual assault complaints.
In her confirmation hearing earlier this year, DeVos would not commit to upholding Title IX guidance. Since being confirmed DeVos has reportedly ignored requests for meetings with survivors’ advocacy groups including the National Women’s Law Center, SurvJustice, and the Victim Rights Law Center.
“It is disturbing that the Department of Education would place these radical groups on the same level as those working tirelessly to confront the crisis of sexual assault on our campuses.” —Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
On Thursday, representatives from survivors’ groups and women who have survived assault will finally have the opportunity to talk with DeVos about their experiences and urge her to maintain the Title IX guidance. But the controversial National Coalition for Men (NCFM) will also have a seat at the table.
Chapters of the group have published the names and photos of women who they deem to be “false rape accusers,” and NCFM President Harry Crouch has publicly stated about domestic violence cases, “Often the woman initiates violence herself.” Speaking about the high-profile case of NFL player Ray Rice’s abuse of his wife in in 2014, Crouch said, “If she hadn’t aggravated him, she wouldn’t have been hit.”
DeVos will also meet with the group Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), which has argued that questions about an accuser’s sexual history should be taken into account in rape cases. SAVE has been included on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of misogynist groups.
While the rights of those accused of any crime are worthy of consideration in the criminal justice system, survivors’ advocates are arguing that DeVos’s attempt to portray the issue of campus sexual assault as one that impacts survivors and the accused in equal measures, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue and harms those who come forward after abuse.
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) called (pdf) the inclusion of fringe men’s rights groups “a slap in the face to the victims of campus sexual assault.”
“It is disturbing that the Department of Education would place these radical groups on the same level as those working tirelessly to confront the crisis of sexual assault on our campuses,” Casey wrote in a letter to DeVos.
The American Federation of Teachers also expressed outrage, and urged those who support survivors’ rights to tweet #Questions4Betsy on Twitter.
The National Women’s Law Center held a protest outside the Department of Education on Thursday. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) joined survivors to demand that DeVos uphold the Title IX guidance and take seriously women’s concerns about campus sexual assault. Women at the rally spoke about their personal experiences of reporting assaults before Title IX was in place and decried any effort to harm the progress that’s been made.
“Rolling back the few institutional protections that exist for survivors isn’t just wrong, it’s inhumane,” said one woman.
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