By Kaethe Morris Hoffer, CAASE Executive Director
Since Title IX became law in 1972, girls and women in the United States have been entitled to receive education unencumbered by sex discrimination.
More than four decades later, however, colleges, universities, and secondary schools too often lack policies and practices capable of making real the promises made by Title IX. To this day, significant minorities of girls and women (as well as too many boys and men) experience sexual violation at the hands of classmates and teachers, only to then discover that the communities in which they are embedded are woefully unequipped to respond to them, or to the people (who are mostly male) whose acts of sexual intrusion throw worlds, and educations, into trauma and chaos.
The ways in which colleges and universities have long been incompetent at preventing or responding to sexual violation have overwhelmingly hurt women, and violated the promises of Title IX. Having been so bad, for so long, at acknowledging or taking appropriate responsibility for the realities of sexual violation, it is predictable that certain schools will develop new policies and practices that are ham-fisted at best. It is clear, in fact, that some schools have simply ping-ponged from being stupid and cruel in the way they treat victims of sexual assault, to being stupid and cruel in the way they treat men in their community against whom allegations of sexual violation are made. This is not the outcome that feminist activists seek, and it is not a reason to jettison efforts to demand that schools and universities learn how to do better.
In the last few years young women activists have been spectacularly successful at increasing awareness regarding the epidemic levels of sexual violence inflicted on (mostly women) in campus settings, and there have been significant, positive developments across the country. New, thriving conversations about the importance of affirmative consent, and the imperative of seeing that sexual assault is as much a “men’s issue” as it is a “women’s issue," have been critically bolstered by never-before-seen levels of enthusiastic support from male allies and the Federal Government’s Department of Education under former President Barack Obama.
Given President Trump’s apparent lack of concern for the sexual dignity of women, many in the anti-rape movement have been anxious about what steps would be taken by his administration regarding campus sexual assault, and last week Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a stinging rebuke of efforts made by her predecessors. At the same time, she announced that her Department will launch a notice-and-comment period regarding regulations, with the aim of ensuring that schools are better informed and guided, and have processes that better serve both victims and perpetrators. CAASE supports those aims, and we agree with Secretary DeVos on this point: the Department of Education can do a better job of helping institutions get it right.
We worry, however, that Secretary DeVos believes that false rape accusations are routinely (rather than very rarely) leveled against men. There are no facts to support that claim, although it is an effective and powerful lie that plays a key role in silencing victims. We are also disturbed by the Secretary’s suggestion that rapes occur because of individual “personal weakness,” and her failure to acknowledge the ways in which the violation of young women’s bodies is simultaneously normalized and ignored by our culture. We worry that the Department of Education will promote policies that undermine school efforts to rid their campuses of sexual violation.
We will not stand for any roll back of Title IX rights for survivors. We will continue to amplify the voices of the victims, students, and communities that support Title IX. We will continue to fight for the realization of the law’s promise: students are entitled to an education unencumbered by sex discrimination, harassment, and assault.