How Betsy DeVos’ Proposed Title IX Plan Will Affect Sexual Assault Survivors on Campus

 In Student Conduct

Sexual assault continues to be a widespread problem across higher education institutions in the United States. Over 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. These rates are especially higher among women of color and LGBTQ students. This may be out of fear of disbelief, stigma, or multiple other reasons unique to the survivor. Title IX compliance is crucial in enabling students to report misconduct and receive justice.

Secretary Betsy DeVos’ recently proposed regulations could threaten the rights of sexual assault survivors by modifying the basics of Title IX. According to the NCAA, the law states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The new regulations proposed by DeVos attempts to reduce the liability of schools for cases of sexual assault and create unequal rights between survivors and accused students, which could deter survivors from reporting incidences, defeating the purpose of the crucial law.

A few ways the law could change due to the proposed plan are outlined below:

Redefining Sexual Assult

The Obama administration had a broad definition of sexual assault, “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”. DeVos’ new definition gets more specific, “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” Because victims may not know if their experience can be classified as severe enough to be labeled sexual harassment, they may be less likely to report the incident.

Letting Schools Choose the Burden of Proof Required for Cases

The preponderance of evidence standard was used under the Obama administration, which made schools discipline accused students if evidence indicated misconduct likely happened. DeVos’ potential ruling would require more convincing and proven evidence for Title IX cases. This would require there to be more proof of the incident, and may discourage survivors from reporting incidents.

Discouraging Survivors to Report Incidents

Currently, students are free to report their sexual assault incidents to anyone, such as advisors at their school or their parents. The school is required to investigate the situation when it is made aware, or even when they should reasonably know the incident happened. DeVos wants to only make schools liable when the incident is reported to school officials on campus, and a formal document is signed to start the investigation. This is yet another way of reducing the number of sexual assault reports.

Providing Accused with More Rights

In addition to the obstacles survivors are already dealing with, DeVos wants to increase the rights of accusers. Before a school could remove an accused student from campus, the new rule would force schools to have risk and safety assessments, allowing the student to challenge their removal. This means accusers could still be in classes with victims, potentially putting them in danger.


DeVos’ proposed changes can threaten the reality of sexual violence on campus by ultimately reducing how Title IX cases get reported and adjudicated – yet, universities still need a system to properly track and manage cases of student misconduct to guarantee the safety of their students and avoid any potential OCR violations.

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