Trump education secretary's new rules on college sex assault claims give more rights to the accused

In the updated regulation, the definition of sexual harassment is narrower 

Education Betsy DeVos announces she and her office finalised changes to Title IX on Wednesday
Education Betsy DeVos announces she and her office finalised changes to Title IX on Wednesday

People accused of sexual assault on school campuses could have more rights under new rules finalised by the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

It was announced on Wednesday the final changes to Title IX, which would alter how sexual assault misconduct is defined by schools.

Ms DeVos initially vowed to do a complete upheaval of Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law prohibiting sex discrimination in programmes that receive federal funding, two years ago but faced an uphill battle from critics.

In the updated regulations, the definition of sexual harassment was narrowed and the law required schools to challenge the evidence through the cross-examination of students in a live hearing.

Other changes were also detailed in the over 2,000-page law, including limiting the number of complaints schools are obligated to investigate to only those filed through the formal process.

“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Ms DeVos said in a statement on Wednesday. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”

President Donald Trump also issued a statement, calling the updated law “even-handed justice” that would treat “the accused as innocent until proven guilty”.

“With today’s action and every action to come, the Trump administration will fight for America’s students,” he added.

These new rules would take effect in August, but they have already sparked backlash among advocacy groups concerned the updated law would help perpetrators escape consequences.

“We will fight this rule in court, and we intend to win,” said Emily Martin, a vice president at the National Women’s Law Centre.

Know Your IX, another advocacy group, warned about the damage this updated law could do if it were to go into effect across school and college campuses.

“If this rule goes into effect, it will make schools more dangerous and could push survivors out of school entirely,” the group wrote.

Opponents have also said they would take the updated law to the courts following the decision on Wednesday.

“Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are dead set on making schools more dangerous for everyone – even during a global pandemic,” Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Centre told the New York Times. “And if this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault.”

Her organisation was one that said they would challenge the regulations in court.

In comparison, supporters of the new regulations have expressed gratitude over the updates.

“This final rule respects and supports victims and preserves due process rights for both the victim and the accused,” Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement.

“Under the previous administration, a single official in the US Department of Education was issuing edicts, without the proper public input, to 6,000 colleges and universities about how to handle the complex and sensitive problem of sexual assault on college campuses,” Mr Alexander added.

Ms DeVos first wanted to pass the new regulations in November 2018, but her office was inundated with more than 120,000 critical comments.

She used the time to then respond to some of the people’s concerns about the new regulations and make changes as needed before submitting the final version.

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