State News

Trump administration to replace campus sexual assault rules

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Thursday that her department will rewrite and replace federal sex discrimination laws to change how universities handle sexual assault investigations. 

Universities across the country may have to rewrite their policies on how to handle investigations of sexual assault on campus, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Thursday, although it does not appear UW-Madison will be affected.

In a speech at George Mason University, DeVos said guidelines added by the Obama administration to the nation’s current sex discrimination laws ignore due process and have failed students.

Obama-era guidelines on Title IX enforcement will be replaced with a new policy that ensures those students accused of sexual assault have the same rights as victims, Devos said.

Although federal guidelines may change, universities would not necessarily be compelled to alter existing rules. The way sexual assault cases are handled at UW-Madison is not expected to change, according to Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

“We have worked hard to develop a set of policies and practices that serve our students well and we do not plan to change them,” Blank said in a statement.

Blank went on to say she believes UW-Madison is fair, impartial and ensures victims and the accused have a fair process.

DeVos, however, disagreed that the guidelines nationwide were fair.

“The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the victim only creates more victims,” DeVos announced.

She added that internal university investigations of sexual assault, where students and faculty act as “lawyers and judges,” lets both victims and the accused down. This is especially true when victims are re-traumatized by an accused student appealing the case, or when a student has to “sue their way to due process,” DeVos said.

“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” DeVos added.

Her department is currently hearing from those involved in both sides of an investigation to replace Title IX with a “workable, effective and fair system.”

Critics say changing current policy would weaken victims’ rights and perhaps deter them from reporting an assault.

“It sends a frightening message to all students: Your government does not have your back if your rights are violated,” victim advocate group National Women’s Law Center said in a statement. 

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