Photo by Chip Somodevilla via Getty

The Dept. of Education Is Taking Misogynists More Seriously Than Rape Survivors

I work with a rape survivor advocacy group that was barred from meeting with Betsy DeVos yesterday. Watching her Department of Education meet with "men's rights" groups and spout rape myths isn't just disheartening—it's dangerous.

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Jul 14 2017, 1:43pm

Photo by Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Earlier this week, an Education Department official in charge of enforcing sexual assault survivors' rights in schools told the New York Times that "90 percent" of sexual assault reports "fall into the category fall into the category of 'we were both drunk,' 'we broke up, and six months later I found myself under… investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.'"

The official, Candice Jackson, is the head of the Education Department's civil rights office. She later backtracked and half-apologized, saying she believes "all sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously." But her statement—and her supposed interest in fair process for accused students—is belied by the fact that she and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are currently meeting with extremist "men's rights" advocates, like the National Coalition for Men, Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE).

These groups are best known for lobbying against protections for survivors of gender-based violence and arguing that violence against women is actually the victims' fault. On their website, SAVE has a section devoted to ways in which rape laws have supposedly "gone too far"; it includes opposition to the Violence Against Women Act provision, which prohibits defense attorneys from asking "detailed, often intrusive questions about the accuser's prior sexual history." Their website also states that "female initiation" is the "leading reason" for domestic violence. FACE falsely claims that men accused of rape in college will "almost certainly be suspended or expelled"—despite copious evidence that false accusations of sexual violence are extremely rare, and that many schools fail to find perpetrators responsible and, when they do, perpetrators are just as likely to be given a warning as they are to be kicked out.

The National Coalition for Men takes the cake: Its state chapters run vicious harassment campaigns against individual survivors. Its Carolinas chapter—the very chapter DeVos invited to today's Education Department meeting—operates a website on which NCFM members post names, photos, and personal information of survivors, whom they brand as "false accusers." Their president, Harry Crouch, has made it his life's work to advocate for men accused of rape and domestic violence; like SAVE, he claims (without basis) that most domestic violence is initiated by women. "Nobody gets up in the morning and walks into the kitchen and starts beating their kids," he told Pacific Standard in 2014.

The National Coalition for Men and FACE are ostensibly speaking to DeVos to advocate for fair process for accused students. This, they argue, requires repealing the Department's 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which clarified schools' longstanding legal obligations under Title IX to investigate and address sexual violence. But FACE, SAVE, and NCM aren't acting in good faith: Though they may deny it, these are misogynistic groups that are actively working to strip survivors of their rights. These meetings are a slap in the face to survivors—especially to those who came forward to file complaints with the Department in hopes of changing their school.

These are misogynistic groups that are actively working to strip survivors of their rights. These meetings are a slap in the face to survivors.

The irony of this all is that Title IX doesn't threaten procedural protections for accused students; on the contrary, it enhances them. Title IX requires campus disciplinary procedures to be fair and equitable to both sides. As the Dear Colleague Letter (the very document the National Coalition for Men seeks to repeal) notes, in order to comply with Title IX, schools must establish "adequate, reliable, and impartial investigations of complaints, including the opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence."

Contrary to the false narrative pushed by FACE and NCM, the procedural protections Title IX provides accused students are actually much more robust than those provided by any other federal law, including the due process clause of the Constitution. That means that a student accused of rape is provided more protections in school discipline than a student accused of stealing or physical violence.

The anti-survivor groups DeVos is meeting with exist to promote a fever dream in which survivors, advocates, and the media are engaged in a conspiracy to deprive men of fair process for unspecified financial gain. NCM President Harry Crouch has called this the "men's violence industry." Nothing could be further from the truth: The average rape survivor experiences a lifetime cost of at least $200,000, and survivor advocates like Know Your IX have been advocating for robust procedural protections for students on both sides of campus sexual assault cases for years. Survivors' rights and fair process aren't mutually exclusive, and Title IX provides the framework for disciplinary proceedings that are procedurally fair for all.

If DeVos wanted to have a real conversation about making campus discipline fair for all parties, we would be the first in line. Instead, they disinvited Know Your IX from today's meeting after members of the organization wrote a critical op-ed in the Washington Post. The fact that Secretary DeVos is giving student survivors the cold shoulder while reaching out to groups like NCM, FACE, and SAVE gives credence to a suspicion I've had for a while: the Trump Administration's concern with Title IX is rooted in misogyny.

Schools investigate and discipline students for code of conduct issues that are also crimes (like, say, stealing or getting in a fistfight with another student) all the time. There's no push to stop schools from investigating those cases. But the Department of Education is now considering raising the barrier to justice for rape victims, and rape victims alone, at the urging of groups that spread well-documented falsehoods about gender-based violence. I fear the Department's choice to single out survivors of sexual violence stems from the pervasive, unique, and patently sexist skepticism reserved only for people who speak up about gender-based violence, especially when Jackson herself appears to be advancing the insidious rape myth that most women and survivors are liars "crying rape."

The Department of Education can and must ensure school disciplinary hearings are fair both to survivors and to accused students—but not if they start by listening to hate groups and implying that survivors are liars. Their actions don't reflect a principled commitment to fair process: They reflect a willingness to entertain the same, tired misogyny that survivors have faced since the dawn of time.