By C.R. Lyles
Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed new guidelines around sexual harassment that may make victims nightmare all too real.
The current Title IX sexual harassment guidelines for students and faculty defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature…” and goes on to explain the school or institutions responsibility to investigate sexual harassment claims.
DeVos’ suggested guidelines would change the definition of sexual assault and harassment on campus’. The new definition would define sexual harassment as, “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access [to an education].”
The idea that one person, or even one department, can set a standard which hundreds of thousands of students and faculty must abide by is completely ridiculous. Not only can each person’s definition of “severe” or “pervasive” be completely different, but this implies that the institution would have to decide on its own whether a case merits an investigation. The proposed definition could dissuade victims who are frightened that their assault wasn’t “severe” or “perverse” enough by the institution’s standards from reporting at all.
In an interview with Paul Willingham, Chief of Police for the Lone Star College System, said, “The guidance is there. All our policies are written and public. It does require our students and staff to take initiative to read these policies and ask questions if needed. This is with most processes on any campus. Communication by all stakeholders is key to make sure a safe environment is established and maintained.”
According to Chief Willingham, “Sexual assault is not a major issue on LSC [Lone Star College] properties. While we have had a few reported over the years, our lack of on-campus housing, Greek life and athletics tends to keep our numbers lower than that of other institutions.”
However, according to the Clery Report, a webpage that reports all of the crimes at Lone Star College-Kingwood, it does happen.
The Clery Report shows reported six assaults happened this year within the Lone Star College System. This does not mean that only six happened, many more could have happened and gone unreported by victims too afraid to speak up.
According to The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, only 12 percent of college students report their assault to the institution or police. DeVos’ reformation of Title IX could make that number drop even lower.
While every human being on Earth can experience sexual harassment, studies show that women, LGBT persons and persons of color are the most vulnerable to an assault on campus. Under President Barack Obama’s guidelines, there were specific, outlined rules that would protect each individual, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.
However, under the Trump administration, the Title IX that protected transgender students was rescinded under the pretense that they did not provide “extensive legal analysis” of its application to Title IX. Removing protections such as these leaves students vulnerable and often times too afraid to report harassment or assault.
The proposed guidelines would also allow the accused to hire an attorney and have the victim of the assault cross-examined. This guideline caters to well-off families who can hire very well trained lawyers to cross-examine the victim. However, victims from low-income families might not be able to hire a lawyer to defend themselves.
This examination would not be held in a courtroom with a judge and jury rather in a room with school officials and officers. School is not a courtroom if anything school should be a safe space and the students attending should be treated as such. Having a lawyer, someone well versed in the law and its loopholes, come in and interrogate the victim can be intimidating and make a victim of assault trip up in their recount or completely shut down.
The current guidelines offer protections for most students attending a public or private school or university that receives federal aid. As Chief Willingham said, communication is the key for a safe environment, however, if these new guidelines were to pass, the new definition of sexual assault on campus’ and the intimidation of a cross-examination might silence the victims of this monstrous crime. This is not a time to be silent.