Proposed federal sexual misconduct policies will hurt students

As the federal government prepares new laws regarding sexual assault on college campuses, schools are taking a look at how these potential changes will affect their students.

The proposed national changes to campus sexual misconduct policy, that would become a federal mandate if approved, include changing the definition of sexual harassment and reducing the liability schools have if sexual harassment or assault occurs off campus. These potential new rules are a disservice to students across the country.

Narrowing the definition of sexual assault alters the way in which victims think about what has happened to them. The new definition would describe sexual harassment to be either a repeated offense or conduct that is so severe that it denies a person access to the school’s resources. This proposed change will limit what students could report and will also limit their ability to get support.

These potential new rules are a disservice to students across the country.

Another significant change is that schools will be much less responsible if their students are involved in sexual assault that occurs off campus. These changes further put the pressure on students to protect and advocate for themselves instead of making universities responsible for protecting their students.

The Trump administration is also proposing that universities choose the evidentiary standard – a preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing evidence – they apply when determining whether students are responsible for sexual assault. A preponderance of evidence means that more than half of the evidence suggests one outcome. Clear and convincing means that in order to find a defendant guilty, the evidence must be much more likely to be true than not. Meeting the latter evidentiary standard in cases of sexual violence is an incredible challenge, especially when the evidence is mostly based on the testimony of those involved. Title IX coordinators at colleges and universities have offered support for continuing the preponderance of evidence standard, so universities should side with experts and uphold the standard that will best protect students.

Each aspect of this directive seems illogical. Narrower definitions of sexual assault and sexual harassment mean that assailants can get away with more sexually violent behavior than they could before, and releasing schools from the responsibility of quickly and appropriately responding to students’ concerns means that colleges and universities can more easily avoid getting involved to protect students.

The University is in the midst of a series of Title IX policy shifts of its own. GW fell under a federal Title IX investigation last August and the University unveiled new policies that went into effect over the summer. When the investigation ended in July, experts said the closure could trigger additional policy changes in the future.

As GW implements new Title IX policies, it can better support survivors by holding itself to a higher standard regarding sexual assault and harassment, in line with policies suggested by the Obama administration, rather than accepting the lower standards proposed by the Trump administration.

Universities must hold themselves to a higher standard and do everything in their power to protect sexual assault survivors on campus.

With additional changes on the way to becoming law, it is crucial that colleges and universities step up and do the most to protect students. It is disheartening to see that Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is choosing to ignore evidence that suggests her policies will lessen sexual violence reported on campus.

Those who have endured sexual violence are less likely to come forward if they feel they will be judged or will not be believed. DeVos’ proposed rules allow schools to raise the standard of belief, meaning survivors will have to provide more evidence to prove the harassment or assault occurred.

Universities must hold themselves to a higher standard and do everything in their power to protect sexual assault survivors on campus.

Matthew Zachary, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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