Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Wednesday finalized new federal regulations that give more protection and power to students accused of sexual assault — which advocates say will hurt survivors.
The new regulations lay out how schools must interpret the federal Title IX gender equity law. In particular, the law has guided how colleges and universities respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment on campus.
Some of the key changes in the new regulations include narrowing the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment and mandating live hearings, during which those accused of sexual assault are given the new right to cross-examine their accuser via a third party.
DeVos said Wednesday that these new regulations will make the investigation process smoother and provide better protection to accused students.
"Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault," DeVos said in a statement.
"This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process," she added. "We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation's schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues."
In 2011, the Obama administration implemented a number of steps schools were required to take when a student reported a sexual assault, such as 60-day time limits on investigations, increased protections for accusers, and a broader definition of what constitutes sexual harassment and assault.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who as vice president led the Obama administration's "It's On Us" campaign against campus sexual assault, said in a statement Wednesday that he would put a "quick end” to DeVos's Title IX changes if elected, saying that the new regulations "[give] colleges a green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their rights.”
Victim advocacy groups say the changes will let schools off the hook and empower them to ignore accusations of sexual assault and harassment.
"The final rule makes it harder for survivors to report sexual violence, reduces schools’ liability for ignoring or covering up sexual harassment, and creates a biased reporting process that favors respondents and schools over survivors’ access to education," Sage Carson, of Know Your IX, a group that combats gender violence in schools, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.
In 2018, the Trump administration estimated that rolling back the Obama-era expansion of Title IX would save schools nationwide between $286 million and $368 million over 10 years as they were required to investigate fewer sexual misconduct cases.
The executive director of the advocacy group End Rape on Campus, Kenyora Parham, said on Twitter that the changes show DeVos and the Trump administration have "absolutely no regard for survivors."
In a column published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday, the presidents of the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP said that new Department of Education regulations threaten "racial and gender justice."
"DeVos’s Title IX rules would make it harder for students who are sexually harassed to receive vital support and protection, while mandating unfair processes for investigating and addressing sexual harassment," the NWLC's Fatima Goss Graves and the NAACP's Derrick Johnson said in the op-ed, which they coauthored. "All these changes would particularly hurt black women and girls, who face even higher stakes when reporting sexual harassment."
"Both of our organizations have stated, again and again, that an attack on Title IX is an attack on all civil rights. DeVos’s rules would forbid schools from proactively addressing sexual violence, forcing too many student survivors into a broken criminal legal system in order to hold their abusers accountable. While some may choose to report their assaults to law enforcement, this cannot be the only option for survivors."
The new regulations will go into effect in August.