rape

Assault Survivors Protest Betsy DeVos as She Meets with “Men’s Rights” Groups

Over 100 Sexual Assault Survivors Protested Outside Betsy DeVos’ Office

Yesterday morning, survivors of sexual assault protested outside U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ office, decrying her decision to roll back protections for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses.

And they did the right thing: it’s a decision that undermines the safety of women (and really, everyone) everywhere.

You may be aware that DeVos is re-evaluating her office’s policy on campus sexual assault, meaning the guidelines for hearings, a development which would be promising if DeVos didn’t have a history of taking away the rights of people who aren’t white men (like refusing to back federal protections for LGBTQ students, for instance).

Under the current Title IX guidelines, there’s only a little bit of room for survivors to come forward, and this was especially so in the pre-Obama era (and I say this from experience, considering I worked in the office of residential life at two universities, and was sexually assaulted while in college myself).

It doesn’t help, as Glamour pointed out, that DeVos underling Candice Jackson “is under fire for her flippant comments about alcohol-facilitated sexual assault.” Gross.

Yesterday, both DeVos and Jackson met with a group of rape survivors for 90 minutes–and then met with representatives from men’s rights groups “who believe that colleges unfairly favor accusers in their investigations into sexual assault.”

Hence, the protest. Because, no offense, so-called men’s rights groups really don’t have a place in this conversation, considering they are fronts for organized misogyny.

Violence against women is a real thing: “82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female,” according to RAINN, who also report that “women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.” Sejal Singh, a policy and advocacy coordinator for Know Your IX, an organization dedicated to ending sexual violence in schools, said:

“Ninety minutes with a small group of survivors is nowhere near enough to understand gender violence in schools, or solutions to it. So we’re holding a Survivor Speak-Out outside the Department of Education to share why we need Title IX, and to send the message that we won’t be silent while our peers are harassed, raped, and pushed out of school.

Now, the Department is suggesting they may roll back that progress. and return to the days when schools swept sexual violence under the rug and pushed survivors out of school. The stakes are too high for us to stand by: Without strong enforcement of Title IX, survivors in universities and K-12 schools will be less safe and equitable, more young people will experience trauma, and many survivors will see their educations compromised by harassment and assault.”

The protesting survivors, about 120 from various organizations, reading letters from others survivors, asking that DeVos abide by the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, which called for better enforcement of Title IX protections. Many live-tweeted the event and posted the letters on Twitter.

One 23-year-old woman, Maya Weinstein, was at the rally–and she shared her story:

“I was raped in my first semester of my freshman year at the George Washington University. My university mishandled my case, re-traumatizing me and making it difficult to continue my education. I was juggling academics, cocurricular activities, panic attacks, and an adversarial relationship with my administration. Once I learned my rights under Title IX, I leveraged them to ensure the university understood that they had to support me, not force me out, and that they had to do this for other survivors too. I came to the Speak-Out to hear and share stories, and to make my presence known, as a survivor, to the Department of Education. To show Secretary DeVos that we will continue to raise our voices until we are heard, and that we need the Department of Education on our side.”

As a former survivor, teacher, sexual assault activist, and administrator at college campuses in residential life offices, I can’t stress enough that women should be believed–all victims, regardless, of gender should be believed. The fact that men’s rights groups are being given the time of day, however, is a direct insult to victims, and to women, as if they can’t be trusted. Or their safety should still be at the hands of men, who are often their abusers.

In my career, I’ve seen survivors come forward, only to be told to “get over it” by administrators–that by coming forward, their rapists lives are being “ruined.” This is not acceptable–and to have our federal government perpetuate this kind of behavior is reprehensible.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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