Accuracy in Media

Betsy DeVos has had it with the misinformation she says is surrounding her effort to reform how college campuses handle sexual assault allegations.

After Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tweeted that DeVos “wants to weaken student protections so an unmarried mother may be denied admission, a woman could be thrown out for using birth control and an LGBTQ student could be subjected to cruel punishment at school,” DeVos lashed out.

“This is completely false and you know it,” she tweeted. “It’s also unbecoming and irresponsible of a U.S. Senator to sow fear and falsehood. Our efforts will restore #DueProcess and support all students, including survivors.”

DeVos has worked almost since she took office on a package of reforms to guidance issued during the Obama administration that said colleges should handle sexual assault allegations among students with campus tribunals that used a “preponderance of evidence” standard – a 50.1 percent chance the allegation is true – versus a “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

NPR’s Tovia Smith demonstrated what DeVos is up against in an interview in September.

“For starters, schools would have to investigate only the most serious allegations of sexual misconduct,” Smith said. “And they could raise their standard of evidence so allegations would be harder to prove. Under the draft proposal, schools could also offer appeals to accused students but not accusers. And they would have to allow cross-examination of alleged victims.”

All of American jurisprudence grants appeals to the accused but not the accuser. And the 6th Amendment clearly allows Americans to cross-examine their accusers.

As for only the most serious complaints being investigated, that refers to a section in DeVos’ proposed guidance that NPR characterized as a “tighter definition of what counts as sexual harassment that would exclude, for example, a single inappropriate comment.”

“’These are kids, I mean,” Cynthia Garrett, who heads a group called Families Advocating for Campus Equality, was quoted as saying on the show. “’They’re just learning how to negotiate the social world on campus. And they make mistakes. And I think this helps bring it down to reality. You know, let’s not be so easily offended.”

But then Smith put the onus back on the White House.

“Others call the Trump administration’s draft a throwback to the bad old days, when schools felt free to sweep complaints under the rug and victims were too afraid to report.”

She quoted a rape prevention activist saying she would not have come forward with her allegations if she had been subject to cross-examination.

“It was so traumatic that I would actually have to leave the library and go vomit,” the activist said of occasions when she would see her alleged attacker. “And so if I can’t handle sharing space with this person, why would I believe that I can handle being cross-examined by this person?”

At Rolling Stone, the headline read: “Campus Sexual Assault: How Will DeVos’ Proposed Policies Impact Victims?” and the subhead: “The education secretary seems to be listening to the men’s rights groups she’s met with and is reportedly working on new policies that would roll back protections for sexual assault survivors.”

The story, by Lilly Dancyger, took sides from the start.

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is developing new policies for how sexual assault and harassment will be handled on college campuses – further rolling back the protections for victims that President Obama put into place.”

The new policies, she wrote, are being decried by victims’ advocates as “a step backward in protection for victims of campus assault and harassment.” She quoted repeatedly Sejal Singh of advocacy group Know Your IX.

“DeVos is making it easier for schools to get away with doing nothing while sexual violence pushes survivors off campus,” was one such quote.

“When you’re assaulted by a classmate, and then have to see the assailant again every day in class – how are you supposed to focus on school?” read another.

“This is even worse than I imagined. Those students shouldn’t be forced to go to school with their rapists simply because they happen to be assaulted down the street.”

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