U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing a major overhaul of the way colleges handle complaints of sexual misconduct, narrowing the definition of sexual harassment and increasing protections for students accused of misconduct.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing a major overhaul of the way colleges handle complaints of sexual misconduct, narrowing the definition of sexual harassment and increasing protections for students accused of misconduct, The Guardian reports. The education department released a plan on Friday that would require schools to investigate sexual assault and harassment only if the alleged misconduct was reported to certain campus officials and only if it occurred on campus or other areas overseen by the school. The plan would narrow the definition of sexual harassment and allow students accused of misconduct to cross-examine accusers in campus hearings.
DeVos’ proposal would replace Obama-era guidelines she scrapped last year, saying they were unfair to students accused of sexual misconduct. The new guidelines aim to give greater protections to accused students while also giving schools flexibility to offer support to victims who don’t file a formal complaint. The Washington Post reports that the rules — under Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding — come after years of rising pressure on universities to better respond to allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct. The proposal is likely to anger those who fear victim claims will be ignored or minimized. But the new direction has been welcomed by men’s rights groups, who say the Obama guidelines were weighted in favor of the accusers, and by some university administrators who found the Obama version overly prescriptive and confusing.
The University of Montana is facing a $966,614 federal penalty for reporting “inaccurate and misleading” crime statistics — on everything from liquor violations to rape — from 2012 to 2015. The fine appears to be one of the highest on record for campus security issues. The university will appeal the fine but doesn’t dispute the charges.
The University of Montana is facing a $966,614 penalty for reporting “inaccurate and misleading” crime statistics — on everything from liquor violations to rape — from 2012 to 2015, says the U.S. Department of Education. The fine appears to be one of the highest on record for campus security issues, after the nearly $2.4 million fine levied against Pennsylvania State University, according to a federal database with statistics from 2010 to 2017 and an announcement from the Department of Education, the Missoulian reports. The university will appeal the dollar amount even though it concurs with the findings, said communications director Paula Short. She noted that the fine is based on data that UM itself reclassified after a request from the department.
“U of M doesn’t dispute the data changes, as we’re the ones that made those,” Short said. “We stand by that piece. We feel like the magnitude of the fine is something we want to discuss with the DOE.” The federal letter says the university’s violations “are very serious,” adding that “current and prospective students and employees rely on the institution to provide accurate disclosures of campus crime statistics so they can make informed decisions about their personal safety. The Jeanne Clery Act requires colleges and universities that receive federal funds to report crime statistics so the public can assess campus safety. In the past, the University of Montana swept rape reports under the rug. Since a federal investigation for mishandling reports of rape and sexual harassment and a 2013 agreement between the campus and the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, the university has worked hard to focus on student safety.
Campuses around the country are facing up to sexual assault and violence—often committed by star athletes. At the University of Arizona, now hit with a number of lawsuits, looking the other way is no longer an option, according to an Arizona Daily Star report.
Universities should take a more aggressive approach to address “toxic masculinity” on campus, particularly in their athletic programs, according to a New Jersey-based sports psychologist.
“People want to pretend that they’re doing something about it,” said Mitch Abrams, a psychologist who specializes in anger management and violence in sports. “(But) what’s been done, in my opinion, is the equivalence of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”
Mitch Abrams/courtesy Arizona Daily Star
Noting that sexual violence perpetrated by athletes is sadly common on college campuses, Abrams said many schools are using outdated or ineffective models to teach violence-prevention to athletes.
“The problems of sexual assault, sexual violence and sexual abuse are ubiquitous,” he said.
The University of Arizona, currently defending itself against lawsuits that claim the school’s athletic department failed to protect students from violence and sexual harassment, is taking Abrams’ warnings to heart.
Starting this week, an attorney who specializes in gender discrimination law will lead a comprehensive review of the university’s processes and policies and also examine how the UA coordinates with supporting agencies such as law enforcement and health care.
“There is no place for sexual misconduct and discrimination at the University of Arizona and we’re working to ensure that a positive and supportive culture reaches across the entire university,” UA president Robert C. Robbins wrote in an email to the Arizona Daily Star.
UA president Robert Robbins, left, pictured with AD Dave Heeke, says sexual misconduct “will not be tolerated” on campus. Photo by Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star.
“I’m committed to investing in the people and resources needed to place our prevention, support and response measures among the very best in the country. Our students, employees and the university community deserve no less.”
But Abrams noted that bystander intervention training, such as Arizona’s Step UP! program, is ineffective and difficult to implement. Step UP! teaches students how to be proactive in helping others in situations involving alcohol, dating violence, gambling, hazing and depression.
“If these programs work, then why isn’t the problem ameliorating?” Abrams said. “Bystander intervention as a primary approach is deliberate indifference.”
The UA has hired San Francisco-based attorney Natasha Baker, who trains campus administrators about Title IX compliance and campus investigations, to guide a review of its processes and policies.
In his email to the Star, Robbins said that while the university “cannot guarantee that the incidents will not happen,” he is committed to making it a “top priority for us to do all we can within our roles as educators and employers to prevent them.”
Robbins’ email emphasized that the university is no different from colleges and universities across the country that are also “wrestling with reports of sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment and discrimination.”
While the quantity of those services demonstrates the school’s commitment to students, they will be better served by “gathering our existing resources in a more coordinated and enhanced fashion,” Robbins wrote.
The university, which has over 34,000 students on its Tucson campus, is defending itself in two federal lawsuits and one local civil lawsuit, all of which claim the school failed to protect students.
In 2015, assistant track coach Craig Carter was arrested after reportedly threatening an athlete with a box cutter while his other hand was wrapped around her throat.
After the incident, Carter sent dozens of text messages and emails to the woman, threatening her and her family members, Pima County Superior Court documents say. The woman is suing the UA in Pima County Superior Court for not protecting her. Carter and the student-athlete were engaged in a sexual relationship that the coach says was consensual.
Orlando Bradford, a former Arizona Wildcats football player, will serve five years in prison for two felony counts of aggravated assault. Two of his victims are suing the UA in federal court. Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star
In 2016, running back Orlando Bradford was arrested and charged in connection with choking two ex-girlfriends. A third woman told campus police that Bradford had choked her, but hasn’t filed a claim or sued. Bradford is serving five years in prison.
The two victims have sued the UA in federal court and one of the suits has since been amended to include allegations of gang rapes by football players. No details were provided in the claim, and it’s unclear if anyone has been charged.
Legal troubles involving coaches and athletes extend beyond the suits against the university.
Football coach Rich Rodriguez was fired Jan. 2, the same day a sexual harassment and hostile workplace claim against him became public. The notice of claim, filed by Rodriguez’s former assistant, says the coach fostered an environment where Title IX “did not exist.”
In 2016, the university issued UA basketball player Elliott Pitts a one-year suspension for sexual misconduct related to the alleged sexual assault of a fellow student.
Arizona officials learned the limitations of “bystander intervention” first-hand in the Bradford case.
Tucson police reports show that four of Bradford’s roommates — all UA football players — routinely witnessed him abuse women, but failed to intervene on all but one occasion. All four teammates, and Bradford, had been trained in the Step UP! program.
Rather than teach bystander intervention, Abrams said, schools must increase accountability among their athletes.
Some athletes and coaches “believe they have different types of rules,” he said. “When we hold coaches and athletes up like that, we can’t be surprised when they take liberties.”
Toxic masculinity plays a key role in violence against women, in that low self-esteem in men causes them to use physical power to regain control, Abrams said.
“These people can change, but they need treatment,” Abrams said, adding that schools often expel players when they recognize a problem, rather than offering help. “If we don’t treat people, we aren’t reducing the number of victims.”
He said that when schools learn athletes or coaches are violent toward women, many cover it up or kick them out — often depending on how valuable the player or coach is to their program.
When UA officials learned of the situation involving Carter, they quickly took action and fired him, even banning him from campus. Carter coached a sport that receives little national attention and doesn’t generate revenue.
University of Arizona stadium, home of the Wildcats. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star.
Bradford, a potential starter for one of the UA’s two showcase programs, seemingly received more slack. Police reports show school officials were made aware of his violent tendencies nearly a year before his dismissal.
Abrams said sweeping changes are necessary to fix the problem. Without trying to understand how perpetrators think, it’s impossible to reduce the incidents of violence by athletes.
“It’s pennywise and pound foolish. Schools are prioritizing things to save their reputations but not addressing the long-term solution,” Abrams said.
“I think people would rather pretend they’re doing something about it rather than saying, ‘I really don’t know and I need to bring in people who do.’”
Admitting and addressing the problem is smart fiscally as well as morally, Abrams said.
“Risk management is cheaper than damage control,” he said.
Caitlin Schmidt is a 2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of her story published in the Arizona Daily Star, as part of her journalism project for the fellowship. The full version is available here. Caitlin welcomes readers’ comments.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ announcement that she wants a “better” approach to campus sex assaults has stoked fears that the Trump administration will weaken existing federal legislation banning gender bias in education. TCR examines the reaction from both sides.
Betsy DeVos’ plan to develop a “better” approach to campus sex assaults has stoked fears among activists and victims that the Trump administration is bent on weakening three-decades-old protections from gender-based discrimination in education.
In a speech last week at George Mason University, the Education Secretary criticized the previous administration’s directive mandating that universities take “immediate and appropriate action” to address cases of sexual violence, rather than waiting for cases to be adjudicated through the court system.
The so-called “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Obama administration in 2011 was a response to concerns—supported by statistics—about high rates of assaults against women on campuses around the country, and the failure of the justice system to address them properly.
The directive said a “proactive” response by university administrators would be within the spirit of the protections provided under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act passed in 1972 prohibiting educational discrimination based on gender.
Photo by USM MS via Flickr
But according to DeVos, the directive has “burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate.” She said a decision on whether to formally rescind the directive would await a “notice and comment” period for views on both sides to be heard.
But many activists believe DeVos’ comments, such as her warning that the directive sets up a “kangaroo court” for men accused of assaults, suggest she has already made up her mind.
The secretary met with critics of the directive and supporters in separate meetings during a Title IX “summit” in July. Some of the attendees claimed DeVos exhibited dramatically different attitudes towards both groups.
“DeVos did not appear very affected or somber after meeting with us, even though the stories told were powerful and devastating,” one attendee at the meeting with sex assault survivors told The Crime Report. “She certainly did not appear as affected or somber as the men’s rights activists describe her being after their meeting.”
“It’s like DeVos had already made up her mind going in.”
But those who support revising or abandoning the Obama-era directive said they welcomed DeVos’ announcement.
“Schools don’t have access to forensics, they can’t put anyone under oath, they don’t have trained lawyers on each side, so it should surprise no one that there are tremendous injustices in both directions,” said Joe Cohn, policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights for Education (FIRE), an organization that advocates for due process of students accused of rape or sexual assault.
“You cannot create a just world by replacing one injustice with a new injustice. We need to be thinking through ways we can encourage complainants to come forward, where they are treated with decency and respect, but due process isn’t thrown out either.”
According to the 2011 letter, university authorities must take “immediate and appropriate action” on any cases of sexual violence that are brought to their attention, and they do not have to forward the case to law enforcement.
The directive was intended to clarify Title IX provisions that require all federally funded educational institutions to comply with laws prohibiting sex discrimination, or risk losing their funding. Under Title IX, allegations of discrimination are investigated by the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights, which has already begun keeping a public list of schools subject to investigation, according to The Atlantic.
DeVos supporters have dubbed these “shame lists,” meant to pressure colleges into siding with the victim in order to avoid investigation.
Cohn argues that, although under the current system both the accused and accuser are allowed to have an advisor of choice present with them at a university hearing (which could be a lawyer), that person is prohibited from speaking or taking part in the process, making such advisors “no more useful than a stuffed animal for comfort.”
Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), an organization created by mothers of sons accused of sexual misconduct, told TCR that DeVos appeared moved by the stories she heard at the meeting with critics last July.
“(She) listened so intently to each person’s story,” Garrett said. “She remembered the story, the names and the details. The room was silent. When we walked out of there, it was like a funeral procession.”
But advocates of greater protection for victims of sexual assaults on campus argued that DeVos showed she did not understand the depth of the problem.
“I think for DeVos and others to assume due process is granted in a criminal or civil setting more than at the university level is making an assumption without [a basis in] criminological theory,” said Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, a criminologist at George Mason University.
“The whole system put in place is the trial, which the vast majority of cases never make it to: 95% of the cases are plea bargains.”
Orozco added that she would like to ask DeVos whether she understood the difficulties involved in the trial process, particularly in sexual assault cases.
“If you were familiar (with those difficulties),” she said she would ask DeVos, “How could you remove any types of avenues from these survivors?”
Survivors of sexual assaults worry that removing the directive will add to women’s fears of impunity for perpetrators of campus assaults.
Jessica Davidson, managing director at End Rape on Campus, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, said “It’s important to note that mandatory police reporting is not a good thing for Title IX. Its simple: survivors don’t want to sit next to their rapist in math class anymore, and they don’t want to go to the police for that.”
Douglas Harms, a teacher advocating for reduced sexual assault on campuses, told TCR: “Studies show that the vast majority of campus sexual assaults are not reported to campus authorities, and even fewer are reported to the police; increasing the burden of proof (e.g., from preponderance of evidence to clear and convincing evidence) would, I believe, discourage even more survivors from pursuing justice.”
“Clearly DeVos and the Trump administration have no grip on the epidemic that is happening on campuses,” said one survivor who asked to remain anonymous. “Defending rapists through changing rhetoric is unacceptable, upsetting and invalidates victims’ experiences.
“More than 90% of sexual assaults/ rapes on campus go unreported—including mine—and that’s because the current rules don’t go far enough.”
But the administration’s skepticism about efforts to extend Title IX protections has also received support from law enforcement.
“Title IX can hamper a criminal investigation by alerting suspects to the allegations,” said prosecutor Tim Bookwalter of Putnam County, IN. “In any other case, we approach the suspect for an interview without telegraphing him the allegation in advance.”
According to Bookwalter, sex assault investigations on campus should be handled by law enforcement agencies, just as all such assaults are handled.
DeVos and her supporters argue that the risk to due process posed by investigations conducted by universities is too grave to ignore.
Betsy DeVos. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
“One person denied due process is one too many,” DeVos said, arguing that universities use the lowest standard of proof when evaluating cases of sexual assault.
According to women’s advocacy groups, DeVos has not followed up with any survivors since the July meeting, despite promising them that this was “just the start” and this “would not be a one-time thing.”
Jessica Davidson argues that DeVos falsely portrays the problem of sexual assault as two equal sides.
“To say that assailants and survivors go through something equal is tremendously insulting to survivors of sexual assault,” she said. “Why would anyone equate violent rape and being kicked out of school? The problem is just not the same.”
Both sides seem to agree that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is not one of men vs. women. Yet, can a system that has been biased for so long be re-created to ensure equality for both sides?
Christina Seung, former President of Code Teal, a student organization fighting against sexual assault, thinks it can’t.
“The system is already skewed to result in very few consequences for the accused,” she said in an interview. “I do not support weakening protection for sexual assault survivors under the guise of legal fairness.”
Meanwhile, as both sides lined up for the comment period, the future of federal policy towards sexual assault on college campuses is unclear. Survivors worry this may be the beginning of a systematic attempt to weaken anti-discrimination protections.
“I have never felt completely safe on my campus, even with our current Title IX policies,” another survivor told TCR.
“To know that DeVos plans to rescind regulations that many have fought for years to establish makes me fear for students, particularly those who enter college with knowledge of how frequent sexual assault happens.”
Megan Hadley is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.
Eight fraternity brothers are charged with involuntary manslaughter for waiting too long to seek medical treatment for fraternity pledge Tim Piazza, 19, who suffered multiple falls after consuming a lethal amount of alcohol. He died on February 3.
Some are from California, barely removed from being baby-faced high schoolers, while others are local products who thought they were getting ready to go off and conquer the world. The eight Pennsylvania State University students are in the same boat now, lost in what will likely be harsh, uncertain waters, possibly for years to come, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Beta Theta Pi fraternity members Brendan Young, Daniel Casey, Gary DiBileo, Luke Visser, Nick Kubera, Jonah Neuman, Joe Sala and Michael Bonatucci were charged with involuntary manslaughter on Friday as Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announced the findings of a grand jury investigation into the Feb. 3 death of fraternity pledge Tim Piazza, 19. They’re facing an assortment of other charges, including felony aggravated assault, tampering with evidence, and hazing. Ten other members of the fraternity, which was disbanded after Piazza’s death, face lesser charges.
Authorities said the fraternity brothers waited too long to seek medical treatment for Piazza, who suffered multiple falls after consuming a lethal amount of alcohol, and then seemed primarily concerned with their potential culpability after realizing the seriousness of his injuries. A look at the lives of the eight students offers few hints of the selfishness and stupidity depicted in the grand jury report. Young, the president of Beta Theta Pi chapter and a Malvern, Pa., resident, describes himself on LinkedIn as a junior majoring in enterprise risk management and finance. Casey, the fraternity’s pledge master, is from Long Island. DiBileo is the namesake son of a prominent Penn State graduate, Lackawanna County Controller Gary DiBileo Sr., a successful Scranton businessman for nearly 30 years.
A person at UCLA was carjacked, kidnapped and held for hours before being released this week, campus police said. The victim, who was not affiliated with the Westwood university, was not injured, UCLA cops said in a statement. It started about 5:30 a.m. Monday near the school’s Center for Health Sciences, which is in […]
A person at UCLA was carjacked, kidnapped and held for hours before being released this week, campus police said.
The victim, who was not affiliated with the Westwood university, was not injured, UCLA cops said in a statement. It started about 5:30 a.m. Monday near the school’s Center for Health Sciences, which is in the middle of campus, they said. The ordeal was apparently reported at 4:35 p.m., according to our reading of police statements.