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Education secretary proposes broad changes for sexual misconduct policy

The changes would redefine sexual harassment and protect colleges


Secretary of Education Betsy Devos poses for a photo in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.

The Department of Education released an official proposal of amendments to its policy on how schools handle sexual assault in November, making good on the Trump Administration's promises to roll back or change existing Title IX rules.

The proposed changes to Title IX, spearheaded by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, would shelter schools from liability and bolster protections for the accused in sexual misconduct claims.

A 60-day comment period will begin when the document is placed in the federal register. 

"(ASU) will comply with the recently proposed Department of Education Title IX regulations regarding sexual harassment to the extent they are implemented and applicable to ASU," an ASU spokesperson said. "... Every member of the ASU community should be prepared to actively contribute to a culture of respect and to keep our community free from sexual violence, harassment, exploitation and intimidation.”

The proposed changes include a rule that would absolve schools of responsibility for incidents that take place off-campus, such as bars or off-campus housing.

"If it happened in an apartment off-campus, it would no longer apply. A lot of these sexual assault incidents occur with students, but a lot of students don’t live on campus, so it excludes them," ASU political science professor Dave Wells said.

One proposed amendment would only hold schools liable for sexual misconduct if the incidents are reported to University officials with "authority to institute corrective measures." Currently, there are multiple options for students to report sexual violence or harassment. 

The amendment would also redefine sexual harassment to explicitly include behavior that interferes with a person's education. 

When the potential for major policy changes under DeVos became apparent last year, ASU President Michael Crow told students at a public forum he had met with the secretary to discuss the matter, and that whatever national regulations say, the University would remain committed in holding students who commit sexual misconduct accountable. 

Sexual assault advocates have raised alarm about a particular change in the document that would allow someone accused of sexual misconduct to cross-examine a victim.

“That idea alone is intimidating to victims, and many will not report knowing they’d have to face the person who harassed them or assaulted them and a legal team who would grill them about their personal life,” said Jasmine Lester, the founding director of Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault.

First leaked by The New York Times in August, the proposed changes have come under fire from survivors' advocates who say that victims would be discouraged to report incidents with these changes.

Read more: Title IX policy changes draw criticism from survivors' advocates

Lester said she finds the proposed rules to be terrifying, saying that it "makes the reporting process more traumatizing for survivors."

Groups such as the National Coalition for Men and Families Advocating for Campus Equality consider the proposals as a win for the rights of the accused, pushing for the rollback of the 2011 guidelines set by President Barack Obama's administration. 

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which analyzed several previous studies on the topic, the rate of false reporting of sexual misconduct is between 2 and 10 percent. 

"The new proposed Title IX regulations by the Department of Education should be welcomed by any person concerned about the restoration of due process safeguards and fair treatment on college campuses," the National Coalition for Men said in a statement. 

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