Who should have the right to define rape: survivors who have experienced sexual violence or those who are accused of perpetrating it?
That is the core question raised by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s decision this month to replace Obama-era guidelines on how universities handle sexual misconduct complaints. In a strongly worded speech, Ms. DeVos made clear that she believed the previous administration had used “intimidation and coercion” to force colleges to adopt disciplinary procedures that deprived accused students of their rights.
To come to these conclusions, Ms. DeVos and her staff appear to have given special consideration to the concerns of men accused of sexual assault. After one hearing about campus rape policies, Candice Jackson, the top civil rights official in the Department of Education, said, “The accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’ ”
Ms. Jackson has since called these remarks “flippant,” but they reveal a gross misunderstanding of sexual assault. Ms. Jackson essentially intimated that she believes either that alcohol-facilitated sexual assault and intimate partner violence are not real or that, at the very least, they are not harmful enough to merit disciplinary action. No wonder Ms. DeVos thinks many sexual assault complaints on campus are baseless. According to Ms. Jackson’s incorrect logic, almost any college man facing disciplinary proceedings would be falsely accused. And yet there is plenty of evidence that false accusations of rape are rare.