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Education Department Rolls Back Obama Policy On Campus Sexual Assault Investigations

Trey Shaar
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called an Obama-era policy on campus sexual assault investigations unfair.

The U.S. Department of Education is changing regulations for schools and universities around investigating sexual assaults, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Friday.

The Obama administration laid out standards in 2011 that made it easier for a school to punish an alleged abuser. In a statement, DeVos said this was not fair to all students.

"Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on," she said. "There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes."

Under the old regulations, if a student went to a university with a sexual assault allegation, the school would launch an investigation. But unlike in a criminal investigation, lawyer Bronwyn Blake says, the school could punish alleged abusers if they answered "yes" to this question: “Is it more likely than not that this incident occurred?"
Blake is the legal director of the Texas Advocacy Project, which provides legal services to people who report being sexually assaulted.

She said determining if an incident occurred could be based on interviews with other students, previous incidents of the alleged abuser or any physical evidence. If an investigator felt it was more likely that an assault occurred, the school could move forward with punishment.

Earlier this month, DeVos expressed disapproval of the policy.

“This unraveling of justice is shameful," she said. "It is wholly un-American, and it is an anathema to the system of self-governance to which our Founders pledged their lives over 240 years ago.”

Going forward, a school addressing a sexual assault complaint can require more proof before punishing anyone.

Blake said she worries students might feel their story just isn’t enough to come forward.

“At a time where sexual assault is this watershed moment where we’re putting money behind the problem and we’re allowing agencies to address it, it’s unfortunate to have a roadblock right now," she said. "I don’t want it to impede all this great work that’s happening.”

DeVos said the Department of Education will gather public comment and talk to schools, parents and students to craft a new set of regulations.

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