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Editorial: New Title IX changes demonstrate institutional disdain for sexual assault victims

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ Title IX reforms reflect the inability of the Trump administration, and many others in the current sociopolitical climate, to take victims of sexual assault seriously.

The reforms narrow the definition of sexual assault, which is already underreported, to that which “is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program.” This wording change, though subtle, is irresponsible and does not take into account the realities of sexual assaults on our campus.

A key aspect of this new definition is the added “and” which replaced “or.” The claim must be all three –– severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive –– to fall under a university’s jurisdiction to take action. Not only does a claim need to have these three hurdles to be considered, but it also must interfere with a student’s ability to access the school’s educational program. If a claim hits all four of these marks, it’s considered sexual assault under this definition. This is a change that hurts victims insurmountably and is cruel to a population which has already undergone severe trauma.

The only reason to make such changes would be to lower the possibility of reporting against those who commit sexual assault.

This is America post-Kavanaugh confirmation. This is America where the president brags about grabbing women by the pussy. This is America where a child molester gets 45 percent of the vote with the backing of the sitting president. 

With this cultural logic, it makes sense to leave a vast majority of sexual assaults uninvestigated or unaccounted for rather than for one man to have his reputation tarnished. Frustrations in this era have created outlets such as Make Them Scared and Callisto. Once again, these are not solutions, they are symptoms of a culture where victims feel they cannot speak up.

In response, the concerns of the Trump administration lie on the side of the assaulters. The emphasis on equality between the perpetrator and the victim suggests a neutral relationship between perpetrators of sexual violence and the victims of it. This so-called neutral relationship implied in the wording of the proposed Title IX reforms only serves to stack the deck further against a group whom the deck is already heavily stacked. 

Victims of sexual assault are already at a societal disadvantage due to the stigma against reporting. They’re already at a legal disadvantage, with only five out of every 1,000 rapes leading to a felony conviction. They don’t need the government to help push them even further into silence.

Listing the statistics is now a broken record. More than 90 percent of sexual assaults among university students go unreported in the United States. Out of the few that are reported, there is roughly a 5 percent chance that any of the claims are false. These reforms do not protect the 90 percent of those who do not report, nor does it protect the 10 percent of those who do report their assaults. They are here to protect the 5 percent of the 10 percent of reported assaulters that may be falsely accused.

This means 1,000 victims of sexual assault are considered equal to 5 perpetrators who may have been falsely accused. These are the priorities of DeVos’ Title IX reforms.

A survey on sexual assault on the UW campus found that 82.5 percent of participants were confident that if they do report an assault, they will remain anonymous. A large deterrent for victims to report their assault is the fear that their privacy will be violated if they move forward with the claim.

If two claims are made against the same perpetrator, the school moves forward with the case whether or not either victim wishes to, as well as making the identity of the victims known. Under these changes, reporting sexual assault now puts students at risk of having their privacy violated.

This once again only serves to make reporting sexual assaults, which only occurs less than 10 percent of the time already, even more difficult and less frequent.

There was a forum on the Title IX changes, however little progress was made in determining whether the UW will take a strong stance against these reforms.

The ball is now in the UW’s court. With the federal government actively hurting the cause of sexual assault victims, it’s up to the UW to protect its students better than DeVos or President Donald Trump.

Editorials are written by Opinion Editor Charlie Kappes and edited and approved by The Daily’s Editorial Board of Social Media Editor Hailey Robinson, Managing Editor Mira Petrillo, Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum, and Development Editor Kellyn Grassel.

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