The Department of Education (DOE) is aiming to change the way campus sexual assault is handled with a set of new Title IX regulations.
Set to go into effect on Aug. 14, the new rules will require universities to hold live hearings where the accused party has the ability to cross-examine and challenge evidence. Additionally, the new regulations define a more specific standard of what is considered sexual harassment.
The new rules define harassment as “unwelcome conduct” that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to education.”
The regulation will replace the Obama-era guidance on the enforcement of Title IX, dubbed the “Dear Colleague” letter, which was a set of guidelines issued in response to student activism and an increase in reported cases. Unlike the Obama era guidelines, the DOE’s new Title IX regulation will be legally binding.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described the new rules as action to address the lack of due-process in the Title IX process.
“This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process,” DeVos said.
“We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation’s schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues.”
The new regulations have garnered criticism from advocacy groups that represent survivors of sexual misconduct. One of the main points of contention is the topic of cross-examination.
“I think that these new rules will make it harder for victims to come out,” junior English and communications major Max Hull said.
“They are also setting up victims to be targeted by those who don’t believe them rather than properly punishing those who commit sexual assault.”
Under the Obama-era guideline, schools were discouraged from permitting cross-examination of the accusing party as advocacy groups claimed that it would dissuade students from coming forward as it could be traumatizing to relive the events.
“The cross-examination and live hearing process could make survivors subject to ‘being interrogated’ by anyone the opposing party chooses to represent them, including a friend, parent or ‘vicious attorney,’” policy and advocacy organizer for Know Your Title IX Sarah Nesbitt said.
Those opposed to the regulations also have a problem with the narrower definition of sexual harassment. Know Your Title IX manager Sage Carson stated that the department’s action will strip back protection for survivors.
“The final rule makes it harder for survivors to report sexual violence, reduces schools’ liability for ignoring or covering up sexual harassment and creates a biased reporting process that favors respondents and schools over survivors’ access to education,” Carson said of the new cross-examinations.
Know Your Title IX, as well as many colleges and universities, are preparing to file legal challenges to the new DOE rules. This could delay the implementation of the new rules.
Some institutions are claiming the increased staffing required to implement these rules is not feasible during a pandemic, which is causing budget problems for many colleges and universities.