In a speech at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy Devos announced plans for a complete overhaul of the Obama-era Title IX rule which specifically outlines the procedural protocol federally funded universities must adhere to when addressing and arbitrating campus sexual assault. In her statement, Devos claimed that the rule eliminated an alleged offender’s right to due process and lamented the idea that college students falsely accused of rape face undue harsh punishment.
DeVos’ remarks echo the talking points of men on the so-called alt-right and self-identified “Men’s Rights Activists” who raise the specter of widespread false rape allegations in order to deny survivors justice and uphold a rape culture. False rape accusations are rare, not widespread. To add insult to injury, only 20 percent of sexual assaults are recorded by authorities—meaning that as many as 4 out of 5 victims of sexual violence on college campuses do not report—and many cite fear of retaliation by their rapists and lack of faith in law enforcement and other authorities as their primary reasons for staying silent. While DeVos and her supporters march on in their push to protect accused rapists, a majority of perpetrators won’t ever face disciplinary or legal action for their crimes.
Devos’ statement sparked an immediate outcry from survivors, advocates and feminist leaders. Sexual assault survivors have since staged peaceful demonstrations on college campuses across the country, carrying signs bearing the slogan “Stop Betsy”—a harkening back to the hashtag that exploded on Twitter after her speech.
These 25 feminists perfectly articulated why we must #StopBetsy from rolling back survivors’ rights.
The Trump administration has been extremely vocal about its opposition to the prior administration’s addendum to the measure. However, it has yet to engage in meaningful discourse with regard to establishing new policies to address the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Earlier this year, DeVos met with alleged rapists to discuss campus sexual assault policies. Shortly after, she declared that the office would return to its “neutral state,” signaling a winding down of civil rights enforcement in the Education Department, and members of her staff came under fire for statements disrespecting survivors.
DeVos’ speech came amidst other attacks by the Trump administration on civil rights for students. “We cannot sit silently while Education Secretary DeVos tries to weaken 50 years of civil rights laws, key regulations that we have fought for so long to enact, protect and advance,” Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said in an email to activists. “Many people would not be where they are today without the support these civil rights laws have provided. We must take action before it is too late.” FMF is urging their members to submit public comments before September 20 to Assistant General Counsel Hilary Malawer in support of measures like Title IX.
“Over and over again,” Smeal added, “the Trump Administration has shown contempt for women’s rights and civil rights. But, if these past few months have shown us anything, it is that collectively, we have the power to stop this unconscionable backsliding when we raise our voices together.”
Sarah Alexander is an editorial intern at Ms.