Trump administration threatens campus sexual-assault investigations with clueless leader of Office of Civil Rights.
WHILE the Obama administration ordered colleges to be more aggressive in their investigations of campus sexual assaults, the Trump administration appears to be moving in another direction.
Recent comments by the U.S. Education Department official in charge of the Office of Civil Rights have already tainted that new approach, worrying college administrators who say they’ve been happy to see more attention paid to this problem.
Candice E. Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights, told The New York Times 90 percent of campus sexual-assault complaints “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk’ ” and include a female student who regretted the encounter afterward.
It’s shocking to see a government official appear to blame sexual-assault victims and suggest that as a credible defense. Jackson has since apologized for her 90-percent comments, saying they were flippant.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray has called for Jackson to be fired. Someone who doesn’t appear to understand the scope and nature of sexual assault on campus should not be in charge of trying to make college life safer for young adults.
Jackson’s words “crossed a serious line and highlighted her clear biases in this area,” the senator said in a statement.
While research does show that many campus assaults involve alcohol, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, sex without consent is sexual assault, no matter what.
The fact that many sexual-assault victims often do not report incidents for weeks or months afterward doesn’t mean these were simply consensual sexual encounters that a young woman later regretted. Investigations should, of course, include due process for victims and the accused.
Although some high profile cases recently have been proven false, the National Sexual-Violence Resource Center says 2-10 percent of sexual-assault reports are found to be false.
Since 2014, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has been investigating schools where victims felt their cases hadn’t been handled properly under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. More than 300 cases are currently under investigation. In 2011, the year the Obama administration issued the new enforcement guidelines, about 15 federal cases were opened to investigate reports of campus sexual assaults.
Of the current total, four are at Washington State University, two at Western Washington University and one each at the University of Washington, Eastern Washington University, Edmonds Community College, Whitman College and Whitworth University.
Officials at WSU believe the increase in federal investigations is a sign not that sexual assaults are increasing but that more campuses are engaging their students about the issue. Students involved in these investigations are told they can go to the federal Office of Civil Rights if they want an external review, said Kim Anderson, Title IX coordinator.
The Trump administration should continue this focus and not send colleges back to the days when campus rapes were covered up.
The next step should be more active prevention, but not just on college campuses. Education must begin in middle school and high school, where young people are still learning how to treat each other.