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Friday, May 29, 2020

Opinion

Title IX changes should not be implemented


Juana Garcia/ The Cougar

Juana Garcia/ The Cougar

The Department of Education recently announced changes to Title IX guidelines, which dictate how schools handle sexual misconduct. It claim the changes will give due process to students accused of assault.

However, instead of changing how the accused are treated, these changes narrow the definition of sexual misconduct. 

The new regulations will allow accusers to be cross-examined, take away mandatory reporting and only have schools investigate incidents that took place on campus or at school events. 

These new rules only hurt victims and will discourage people from coming forward, which will leave them with less resources after an assault. These new changes endanger our students and they should not be implemented. 

A new definition

One of the major changes is the definition of sexual assault for Title IX offenses.

Before, the guidelines defined assault as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” while the new rules say “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”

This narrows what is considered assault, which will prevent many from reporting and from getting the help they need. 

The new definition implies that an assault survivor would have to be failing classes or being intimidated out of school in order to go to the Title IX office. 

Having “access to the school’s education program or activity” does not mean survivors don’t need help from the Title IX office. 

Cross-examination

Another change is that schools will be allowed to cross-examine accusers at Title IX hearings. This would allow for rape victims to be questioned and challenged during hearings, much like what happens in court. 

Many sexual misconduct victims turn to the Title IX office because they don’t want to deal with the justice system, which is notorious for causing trauma and bad experiences for sexual assault survivors. 

Not only would these experiences be overly traumatic for those reporting a sexual assault, but it would also reduce the options available for reporting. 

Many may not want to go through the justice system because they won’t be able to publicly describe what happened to them without dealing with serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This is not safe for victims and it will certainly cause less people to report incidents in fear of cross-examination. 

No longer mandatory to report

This rule also takes away the mandatory reporting requirement from colleges. Before, all faculty and staff would have to report any sexual misconduct to the Title IX office. In order to ensure no one neglects responsibility, reporting should continue to be mandatory. 

However, now faculty and staff won’t have to report anymore. This can encourage college faculty and staff to become lax about bad behavior because there will be no consequence for staying silent. This is irresponsible and will cause less reports and less culpability for teachers and staff.

On campus or school-sponsored events

The new rules also state that schools can only be held responsible for incidents on campus or at school sponsored events whereas before, schools could investigate any misconduct affecting students. 

While that may make sense, during the Title IX session of my freshman orientation at UH, the Title IX coordinator explained how an assault that happened off-campus will still affect a student and their experience at UH, so the office will still investigate. 

If a student is assaulted off campus, they should still be able to go to the Title IX office for help. Otherwise, it leaves students with less resources. 

By cutting out off-campus incidents, mandatory reporting, allowing cross examination and changing the definition of sexual misconduct, there will be fewer reports, which means less investigations and in turn, less chances for closure and justice for survivors. 

While it’s important to have due process, these changes don’t seem to increase that, but rather discourage people to report assault at all.

One in five women and one in 71 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, and college campuses are infamous for sexual assault. 

We know assault happens at UH, like any other school, so we should be furious. 

Right now, we should support the American Civil Liberties Union, which just sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over the changes. 

Sexual assault has likely affected more people you know than you realize, so we should be speaking out and standing against these new guidelines.

Anna Baker is an English junior who can be reached at [email protected]

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