Proposal to drastically change the way colleges and universities handle sexual assaults

In this Sept. 17, 2018 photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a student town hall at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. DeVos is proposing a major overhaul to the way colleges handle complaints of sexual misconduct. The Education Department released a plan Friday that would require schools to investigate sexual assault and harassment only if it was reported to certain campus officials and only if it occurred on campus or other areas overseen by the school. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

WASHINGTON (SBG) - There is a major re-write underway on how schools handle cases of sexual assault.

The Department of Education has proposed changing the language to define campus related sexual misconduct as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”

This is far more narrow from previous language stemming from Obama-era regulations, in which it was defined as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

Secretary of education Betsy DeVos is also expanding protections for the accused.

“Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. Every student accused of misconduct must know that guilt is not pre-determined,” she said during a speech on the matter last year.

The rules also limits a school’s ability to act as judge and jury in such cases and gives the accused the right to confront the accuser or representative, which supporters of the new regulations believe is outlined in the 6th amendment to the Constitution.

“No court system whether it’s in a University or at the supreme court should be able to abridge the bill of rights in that kind of a way,” said Emma Meshell, Program Manager with the conservative group “Campus Reform, which calls itself a campus watchdog group.

But these proposed changes from the Department of Education don’t sit well with a lot of people, who believe it will make it harder and less likely for victims to come forward and report the crimes.

“So this rule is going to essentially silence them and make them feel like if they come forward, their voices won’t be heard,” said Osub Ahmed, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress in a recent interview.

Already studies published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center show about one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, but more than 90% of sexual assault victims don’t report the assault.

“The idea of putting a survivor in a situation where she or he have to present their story in almost a court context is traumatizing, it’s harmful,” said Ahmed.

In the era of the #metoo movement, and a time where talking about these crimes has become more normalized, critics say the proposed law would erase that progress that took decades to attain.

The Department of Education will be taking comments on this matter until January 28, 2019.

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