Activists Fear Reversal Of Strict Rules On Campus Sexual Assault

Jan 12, 2017
Originally published on January 12, 2017 6:22 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now on to another one of Trump's Cabinet picks, Betsy DeVos for secretary of education. Her confirmation hearings begin next week, but activists aren't waiting. They're pressing her on the issue of sexual assault. They want her to continue the current administration's strict enforcement of how schools should handle it. DeVos hasn't addressed the issue yet. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: When the Obama administration started using Title IX, which bars gender discrimination, to crack down on campus sexual assault, schools whose old MO was to sweep cases under the rug quickly change their ways. Victims started getting more support and offenders more than a slap on the wrist.

But some Republicans are blasting the Education Department for regulatory overreach. They want to give schools more leeway to make their own policies, and that's got sexual assault survivors worried.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Dear Betsy...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Dear Betsy...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Dear Betsy...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Dear Betsy...

SMITH: Through the social media campaign launched by End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX, survivors are posting personal pleas imploring DeVos to protect the Title IX rules that protected them.

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MAYA WEINSTEIN: I was raped by another student. After...

SMITH: George Washington University graduate Maya Weinstein posted a video describing the, quote, "injustice" she experienced until she filed a complaint against her school for violating Title IX.

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WEINSTEIN: Title IX backed me up and supported and validated my feelings that what the university had done to me was wrong.

SMITH: Others tweeted that Title IX protection saved them from having to run into their rapist in their dorm every day and enabled them to stay in school. Survivors say it's brought them security, justice and, as Ariane Litalien said in her video, recovery.

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ARIANE LITALIEN: As a survivor myself, I've seen firsthand how participating in a Title IX complaint really validated my feelings. And it literally helped me out of depression.

SMITH: But not long after the Dear Betsy hashtag launched, critics of Title IX also jumped in and started posting that enforcement has gone too far and, echoing the GOP platform, that current rules make it too easy to punish students on flimsy evidence.

In one tweet, a recent graduate, Austin Henshaw, urged DeVos to stop the, quote, "evisceration of due process for the accused." While DeVos herself has not publicly addressed the issue, a longtime colleague and supporter, Ed Patru, says she will be sensitive and fair.

ED PATRU: Look. No one is going to take the issue of sexual assault as seriously as Betsy DeVos. And I think anybody who suggests otherwise just doesn't know what they're talking about.

SMITH: As for specifics, Patru says DeVos will speak for herself at her confirmation hearing next week. Organizers say their Dear Betsy tweets will continue until then. Tovia Smith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILD NOTHING SONG, "CHINATOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.