Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assault rescinded

UC, Miami among schools being sued over sex cases

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is scrapping Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assault, replacing it with new interim instructions for universities. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said the Obama rules were unfairly skewed against the students accused of assault.

In a statement Friday, DeVos says, “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on.” But she adds, “The process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”

The temporary guidance will be in place while the Education Department gathers comments and comes up with new rules.

The department is also withdrawing the Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence, which required schools to adopt a minimal standard of proof and provided guidelines on how to handle sexual assault investigations. It has been criticized for not recognizing due process.

"As I said earlier this month, the era of rule by letter is over," DeVos said. "The Department of Education will follow the proper legal procedures to craft a new Title IX regulation that better serves students and schools."

Go here for a Department of Education Q&A on campus sexual misconduct.

How local schools are handling sex assault allegations

 

Both men and women are suing local universities, claiming the system is rigged against them in sexual assault cases.

On one side: Two federal lawsuits filed by men allege local universities caved to pressure from the federal government, media and campus groups. They argue they're victims of a biased system.

"If you have the mindset that the person who is accused of misconduct is not innocent until proven guilty, you're much more likely to find them responsible or find them guilty," civil rights attorney Joshua Engel said.

On another side: Advocates for sexual assault survivors say that's untrue and misses the point. Women were treated with suspicion for so long they're hesitant to come forward, they say. And, they argue, universities aren't required to presume a student's innocence.

Grace Cunningham, a rape survivor and student activist, said UC declined to pursue her assault case and discipline her alleged rapist.

"The university isn't taking it seriously," she said.

Colleges and universities now are caught in the middle of these two sides: Victims say universities aren't doing enough to protect them, and suspects say they aren't allowed due process.

Colleges are bound by Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination -- including sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault -- on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Under the law, universities can be held responsible if they fail to protect students from sexual discrimination.

Cunningham said UC still isn't doing enough. Last year, she and other protestors provided a list of 10 demands to UC, including campus-based peer advocacy, mandated consent curriculum and mandated training. She said UC doesn't provide those.

"They're not doing what they need to do," Cunningham said.

UC has added resources and staff, including two Title IX investigators and two program coordinators to provide education and interim measures.

University Spokesperson Greg Vehr released the following statement: 

In responding to reports of Title IX violations, the University of Cincinnati focuses on the well-being of our entire university community and makes every effort to provide an equitable process that respects everyone’s rights and accommodates their needs. We continually monitor developments in this area and work to enhance the support and resources we offer where appropriate. Due to federal confidentiality requirements, we cannot address the specifics of any individual case. Our goal, as an educational institution, is what's best for all our students in terms of safety, equity, and support.

...The university continues to strive to create the best environment it can for all of its students. The University’s disciplinary process is one part of those efforts, but it is often more reactive than proactive. In order to continue striving to create the best educational environment for everyone, we must also focus efforts on how we can prevent these events from occurring at all. One proactive effort is to continue spreading the word on creating a culture of consent, which we hope the public’s attention to these issues will help. The safety and well-being of all the members of the university community is paramount.

Engel argues the scales have tipped too far to one side and that schools now discriminate against students accused of sexual misconduct simply because they're men. Earlier this month, DeVos said the way colleges handle sexual assault is a "failed system," with confusing and elaborate guidelines. She promised change and Friday's announcement is the first step in that change. 

That's too late for some men, Engel said: They've already suffered lost time and damaged reputations.

He represents one man suing Miami University and another suing the University of Cincinnati. Engel said he's filed dozens of similar lawsuits around the country on behalf of students he claims were falsely accused of sexual assault and weren't given due process through Title IX investigations and disciplinary hearings.

"I honestly believe that nationwide, the University of Cincinnati has one of the worst reputations," he said.

Go here to read more from the I-Team.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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