Protect Title IX
Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 11, 2017
“Notre Dame represents itself as a place of Catholic values, but acts inconsistent[ly] with that message. The proclaimed respect for truth and justice at Notre Dame is empty chatter when Notre Dame covers up sexual violence and helps offenders get away with it.” This line from the recent lawsuit launched against the University, first reported by the Observer, reflects the necessity for a strong, complainant centered Title IX policy. In a speech at George Mason University on Thursday, Betsy DeVos argued the opposite. Instead she claimed that the values of justice and due process demand a total re-evaluation of Title IX. Arguing that its policies are biased and confusing, DeVos called Title IX a “failed system” and announced the Department of Education’s plans to begin a listening process with the end goal of replacing current guidance.
DeVos conflates the issues of civil and criminal justice. Title IX ensures the civil right to education regardless of sex. Sexual violence cases, investigated under Title IX, are therefore civil rights cases. Schools thus employ the standard of evidence used in civil court: preponderance of evidence, or “more likely than not.” This same standard of evidence is used in all civil suits, including those filed by the accused against their former universities, many of which DeVos mentioned on Thursday. DeVos strongly suggested that she disagreed with this standard of evidence, implying a shift to the “clear and convincing” standard, or even “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Sexual violence cases are amongst the most difficult to prove, even within current guidelines. Were this standard raised, sexual violence survivors would report even less often than the distressingly low rates today. And if they do report, it will become far less likely that perpetrators will be found responsible.
Is this justice? DeVos invoked rhetoric of “kangaroo courts” and “due process” throughout her speech. “The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the ‘victim’ only creates more victims,” she argued. DeVos recounted multiple horror stories of “false accusations,” failing to provide any evidence of their alleged falsehood. She chose to focus on the very rare instances of suicide after being accused of rape, ignoring the higher number of sexual assault victims who commit suicide. However, by alternating between accounts of respondents and survivors, she conjures an equivalence of experience where there exists none. 90 to 98 percent of reported incidents of sexual violence are real. False accusations do not run rampant. DeVos’s portrayal of Title IX as unjust toward the respondent exaggerates outlier incidents and misconstrues the truth of a system designed to provide due process and justice to both parties.
DeVos cites a story in her speech, quoting a survivor of sexual violence as saying: “I don’t think it’s the rape that makes the person a victim, […] it is the failure of the system that turns a survivor into a victim.” While DeVos misconstrued this narrative as a reason to rollback Title IX, in reality, this asserts the necessity of better enforcement. When institutional misconduct occurs, we rely upon the guidance awarded by Title IX and the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) to hold educational institutions accountable. DeVos showed a clear disregard for and willful misunderstanding of Title IX compliance by arguing that specific failings delegitimize an equitable system. Rather, these failures emphasize the importance of compliance. In rejecting Title IX altogether, DeVos demonizes a system built to protect survivors’ civil right of educational access.
We believe in the value of justice. We believe in due process. But we believe due process goes both ways. Shifting the reporting process to law enforcement will not improve due process; it will instead cut down on reports. As Know Your IX released in a statement after DeVos’s speech, “We have no faith that a President who brags about sexually assaulting women is interested in building a system that’s fair for survivors.” If students fail to assert why Title IX is important, it will slip away, leaving a mess of legal procedures and inequities in its wake. Protect your Notre Dame family. Protect Title IX.
In Notre Dame,
Elizabeth Boyle & Isabel Rooper
University of Notre Dame ‘20
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.