Trump’s plan to erase the Obama administration’s policies will support a system that will continue to inflict trauma and will perpetuate the informal legalization of rape.
In a completely unsurprising turn of events, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the Department of Education under President Donald Trump, would dismantle parts of Title IX, including policies based on the 2011, Office for Civil Rights-issued “Dear Colleague” letter, which stipulates that sexual violence and harassment interfere with a student’s right to receive an education free from discrimination.
The announcement comes after DeVos spent this summer consulting with various campus sexual assault groups to decide the best course of action to uphold patriarchal white supremacy. Among advocates for survivors, she also met with — surprise, surprise — advocates for the rights of accused rapists.
The department hasn’t specified a timeline just yet, so for now, this announcement simply confirms their intent. Given that the President is an admitted and unapologetic sexual predator himself, this is appalling but unfortunately it is not shocking. The White House removed its report on sexual assault prevention from its website just before the announcement, as if it couldn’t make it any clearer how this administration feels about sexual violence.
Title IX is part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 – it provides: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Colleges in receipt of any financial assistance from the Federal government must comply with Title IX or otherwise run the risk of having that funding pulled. The most well-known applications of the rule relate to athletic programs, but the law stipulates that it be applied to all educational activities.
In 2011, the Dear Colleague letter effectively placed the onus of protecting survivors, on institutions. The new provisions outlined best practices for college administration on how to proceed with sexual assault allegations. Colleges were responsible for informing survivors of their options on how to proceed, concluding investigations in a timely manner, and lowering the standard of proof needed to reach a decision. The Obama administration legislated that sexual violence and harassment is a violation of civil rights that interferes with a student’s right to receive a discrimination-free education.
DeVos’ plan to roll back Title IX is based solely on her criticism of Obama’s “failure” to protect the “due process” afforded to accused rapists. Although she’s vocalized her intent to implement a fair system that she claims would do more for both survivors and the accused, DeVos’ office has proposed absolutely no alternatives to the guidelines set by her predecessors. In response, former Vice President Joe Biden encourages people to push back against this change as much as possible.
The decision to roll back Title IX guidance relies on the myth that all rape allegations are false. Yes, people do make false accusations, but given those cases represent 2-8% of all reported instances of sexual assault, it’s simply unrealistic to weigh the rights of accused rapists over the rights of survivors. Studies have shown that up to 33% of men admit that they would “force intercourse” on a woman if they knew that they wouldn’t be punished.
If there’s anything I’ve personally learned from my own experiences as a survivor and from media coverage on sexual assault cases, it’s that rapists lie about raping more often than survivors do about being raped. Jian Ghomeshi, Lukasz Gottwald, Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, Daniel Holtzclaw – all of these cases follow the same pattern.
A man abuses his position of power to prey on vulnerable women, and lies about it when he’s held accountable. Sexual abusers leverage society’s misogynistic hyperfocus on false accusations and rely on tired rape myths to escape the consequences of their reprehensible actions. Some people seem to fall for it every single time – fortunately for rapists, those people are often in positions of power themselves.
There’s a systemic misunderstanding that survivors only come forward to ruin someone’s life, when in reality, we come forward because someone has already already ruined ours. The aftermath of trauma is a heavy burden for survivors to shoulder — sexual violence and the resulting post-traumatic stress disorder are physiologically debilitating.
Choosing to inflict that amount of pain on someone and have the audacity to lie about it to escape the consequences is reprehensible. It belittles the utter nightmare survivors live with as the result of someone else with a poor understanding of consent making the active decision to disrespect their body. Institutions seek to further minimize a survivor’s experience, perpetuating even further gaslighting and violence against them. For innocent people who literally did not consent to any of this, survivors shoulder far too heavy of the burden of sexual assault.
Trump’s plan to erase the Obama administration’s policies will support a system that will continue to inflict trauma and will perpetuate the informal legalization of rape. This will pave the way for people like Trump to snake their way through society, inflicting misery and pain on the marginalized while gaining even more power that they can abuse. This is an unacceptable step in the fight against white supremacy and we must continue to dismantle rape culture and push back against those who seek to support it.