DeVos, rape victims and the ‘both sides’ myth

Andrea Ngeleka/Courier An illustration of women's essentials to survive college campuses.

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Pepper spray? Knife? Stun gun?

These are the repeated discussions I’ve had with friends and the questions I continually ask myself, as we search for the best way to defend and protect ourselves.

As a woman, I’ve had countless conversations with female acquaintances about our shared struggles in a society where we are constantly objectified and harassed. We have grown accustomed to the ways in which our being is sexualized on a daily basis: the strange men in supermarkets who leer and make comments about our bodies, the fallacy we are told that our clothing choice somehow dictates our self-respect, the way we are expected to receive catcalling as compliments. We are no strangers to the possibility and the reality of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses.  

So when Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s appointed U.S. Secretary of Education, speaks out on reforming the current Title IX provisions on campus assault, we listen.

DeVos has stated that she wishes to improve the ways in which sexual assault cases are handled by universities, but I am not convinced she has the best interests of those affected at heart. In a speech at George Mason University last Thursday, DeVos stressed the importance of bolstering the rights of not only the survivors of sexual assault, but those accused of sexual assault as well. While no one is looking to engage in witch hunts where the accused are immediately vilified, it is vital that we do not expand upon the doubt already placed on so many of those who courageously come forward with their experiences.

Andrea Ngeleka/Courier
“Guilty until proven privileged.”

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 23.1% of undergraduate females experience sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. However, only 20% of those victims report the incident. This is one factor that allows  994 perpetrators out of every 1000 rapes to walk free.

There are many reasons why survivors choose not to report the crime, including fear of not being believed, the idea that reporting won’t amount to anything, and the sad fact that our culture may have deluded the victim into believing they’re at fault. DeVos’ statements imply that there is a significant amount of accused persons who are either not guilty or do not deserve the punishments universities have placed. As Secretary of Education, she has a role in shaping not only American policy but the views of the nation’s citizens. Her statements on this sensitive topic are not supportive to victims of sexual assault and encourage their words to be doubted.

We need to reform the way we handle sexual assault on college campuses. Much of it lies in changing our culture and the way we educate young boys and girls. But I am not confident that DeVos’ vision of Title IX reform will create any kind of genuine social progress. In addition to being endorsed by a man who has consistently treated women poorly, DeVos has made numerous dubious statements, including the illogical “but if everything is harassment, then nothing is.” It’s uninformed comments like these that illustrate why sexual harassment and sexual assault are still a problem, even in our modern “enlightened” world.

DeVos misses the mark on the true issues at hand. While false reports of sexual assault should be taken seriously, they are not very common. Most people have very little to gain in making a public claim of sexual assault. These few high profile false accusations have been used to further discredit the hundreds of thousands of women who have genuinely experienced sexual assault.

Furthermore, one only has to look at the infamous Brock Turner case to see how sexual assault is not taken seriously in America. Something is terribly wrong when we care more about maintaining a rapist’s reputation or an athlete’s future than carrying out justice. If she truly wishes to make our colleges safer, Betsy DeVos needs to stop pandering to the accused.

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