Betsy DeVos, the Amway heiress who pretends to be an educator, has decided to strip campus protections on sexual assault. She bought her office by shoveling money at the Republicans, and her fawning bought her to chance to throw women under the bus. What a great and glorious boon for her legacy. The Education Secretary decided to drop the death-hammer on Title IX’s protection statues in Arlington yesterday. Obama put down rules to handle sexual assault, and Trump’s Education Secretary wants those rules smashed. According to the Times:
Saying that the Obama administration’s approach to policing campus sexual assault had “failed too many students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.
There’s that “both sides” phrasing that the Trump Administration is so fond of. See, it’s not enough that women have to suffer shame and degradation at the hands of indifferent administrators, or campus peace officers who would rather sexual crimes be hushed up. No, that is not enough for Betsy DeVos. The Secretary and her ghoulish court of flatterers have decided that rape victims have it too easy.
Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights. “Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” she said in an address at George Mason University in suburban Arlington, Va. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”
What a perfect blasphemy to make Lady Justice testify on your behalf, DeVos. It’s that little “fuck you” to sexual assault survivors that makes DeVos’ move cross the line from petty to self-satisfied evil. DeVos’ speech, such as it was, was a masterpiece of double-dealing and false consciousness. The results were inconvenient, so the results were abolished.
There was no tangible evidence presented, no string of logic cited. Anecdotal evidence, such as the Boermeester case (where a team kicker was suspended for an assault that didn’t happen) were treated as if they were scientific law. DeVos the merciful handed down this ruling from on high with the kind of certitude that comes with being born to a pile of gold: I can make the guidelines for other people’s lives. Nobody else’s suffering matters. I make the rules. I, Betsy DeVos, can declare unilaterally that rape is not a Genuine Problem on college campuses.
DeVos does not live in the real world. Rape culture is real, and manifests in terrible ways. Higher education has a problem with sexual assault, and must face its responsibility. Rape culture exists because our society does not understand consent. Because we do not understand consent, our definitions of rape change and alter, to excuse some kinds of sexual assault and condemn others. But every kind of sexual assault is criminal and wrong. Why is that hard to comprehend?
Under Title IX of the Education Amendments passed in 1972, federally-funded programs cannot allow discrimination on the basis of sex. In due time, with growing awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault in higher ed, Title IX was expanded to protect students and staff against predation. How could anyone find fault with this?
No law is perfect, no human institution is ideal. Our laws were not made by the archangels, and cannot deliver spotless justice. But Title IX does not promise perfection. It provides a shield where a shield was needed. What Title IX says, very simply, is that schools cannot whitewash away sexual assault. They cannot pretend it does not exist, cannot blame it on the victim. As one commenter online pointed out, the right-wing alternative to Title IX is not that schools respond better; it is that they barely respond at all.
This is because conservatives like DeVos have always been privileged and powerful, and so they do not understand how influence works. Colleges have a financial and cultural incentive to pretend that sexual assault does not happen in their halls. This hiding-game is well-documented. Sexual harassment laws fall into the same category. Sexual harassment is real. As women entered professional America, harassment became a problem. It happened so often, so egregiously, over such a prolonged period of time, that it became necessary to pass laws. Sexual assault rules on college campuses follow the same pattern.
It is beyond dispute that occasionally innocent people are unjustly blamed, but that is not a serious argument against abolishing assault laws. This is the same movement that fetishizes guns on campus—universities are so deadly!—but claims in the same breath that women are not at danger. Which story do they prefer? Given DeVos’ statements, why would the truth matter to her at all?