End of important Obama-era legislation leaves many vulnerable
by Meredith Mclaughlin
Features and List Co-Editor
On September 22, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rolled back the Title IX legislation enacted by the Obama administration. This legislation was meant to tackle the high rates of sexual assault committed on college campuses, as well as in high school and K-12 settings. It also provided important legislation meant to protect transgender students from bullying. However some of Title IX’s contents were seen as too overreaching for many members of the GOP. While they might be pleased with DeVos’ swift action, the loss of such important legislation has many college students and anti-sexual assault activists feeling more than worried.
One of the biggest grievances Republican lawmakers had with Title IX was its enforcement of “preponderance of evidence” as being the standard for determining the outcome of a case. In short, preponderance of evidence means that “the proof need only show that the facts are more likely to be than not,” and is the standard in all civil cases. Seeing that Title IX deals with civil cases based on sex/gender disputes, it made sense that it would follow the same conduct as educational legislation dealing with issues like racial discrimination. The use of preponderance of evidence was emphasized in thehopes that it would decrease the percentage of unreported sexual assaults on campus from 90% to a much lower number. Following the clear and convincing proof standard or the beyond a reasonable doubt standard would not be effective or possible, considering college campuses don’t have the resources of a court, and that most victims can not provide evidence to meet the standard due to the high likelihood that they were intoxicated during the assault. But in the eyes of GOP lawmakers, the use of preponderance of evidence prevents the accused from having a fair trial. DeVos in particular has reiterated the need for a system to “ensure that schools employ clear, equitable, just, and fair procedures.” These procedures often determine whether or not a victim will have to continue to share classes with their assaulter, whether the victim would need to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would protect the accused, or even whether or not a victim decides to report their case at all. The concept of false sexual assault reports is certainly a concerning one. However only about 7.1% of reports are false, which is in keeping with the percentage of false reports for other crimes. Because of this, anti-sexual assault advocates urge for reports to be taken more seriously, and fear that DeVos’ definition of “equitable” doesn’t match the reality of the problem.
Equally as concerning is the removal of Title IV protections for transgender students. Under the Obama administration, discrimination against gender identity in schools would be punished in the same way as discrimination against gender. Many Republican lawmakers found this inclusion to be against their values. Transgender advocates are concerned that the loss of this legislation will render lawsuits won by transgender students against their schools ineffective. It also sends a message to transgender students that the current administration doesn’t want to help them, and in a period where 36% of transgender people attempt suicide before the age of 25, this message can be deadly.
The Obama administration’s added legislation was intended to prevent schools from putting victims through a lengthy and humiliating process and from favoring the reputation and well being of potential rapists, and those who supported the legislation find DeVos’ actions as being a step back towards those practices. Her support of Trump’s removal of transgender legislation adds to many people’s concern for the safety of their children in school under her authority.