Announcement: Spring prom has been canceled. Instead, Cruella DeVos invites you to harass or rape your would-be date off campus. Just make sure you follow her regulations when doing so.
A new and complex set of regulations was released in the middle of a pandemic that has posed a crushing burden on colleges and universities? According to Cruella DeVos, “civil rights really can’t wait.”
The civil rights in question are those of young men disciplined by their colleges and universities for sexual wrongdoing.
Twenty years ago, this was a group that didn’t even exist. I used to travel from college to college speaking about rape and sexual harassment. I always inquired as to the number of Title IX complaints alleging sexual wrongdoing and was never surprised to be told there were none, one, or maybe two or three, at universities with 20,000 students.
Hard to square those numbers with victim surveys, which consistently find that at least 1 in 5 female college students report having been forced to have sex without their consent, which is to say, having been raped.
“Rape Not Rape to Most Victims,” one memorable news headline read. The victims were right. Why put yourself through the ordeal of reporting, much less what comes next? If you’re going to be put on trial and the likely result is simply your further humiliation?
In fact, two days before former President Obama left office, his Education Department’s Office For Civil Rights released its list of 223 colleges and universities that were being investigated for alleged failure to adequately address reports of sexual violence.
That was clearly way too many for President Donald Trump’s office of miseducation.
Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rules, the federal government couldn’t care less if a student is summarily expelled for eating lunch, suspended for borrowing a passage for an assignment, disciplined for dorm refrigerator compartments being violated. Traffic tickets can get you suspended, but an allegation of rape? Nope.
Under the new rules, no disciplinary action of any kind may be taken against an alleged sexual predator until a final decision is made on the merits of the case. And that doesn’t happen until and unless the victim (let’s call her the girl, for convenience) formally complains to the proper authorities and is willing to face a public hearing during which she will be subject to live crossexamination. The new rules also allow the campuses to raise the bar for disciplinary action to one that is higher than courts use in civil lawsuits.
Rape remains the most underreported of all violent crimes. Women too often conclude, too often with reason, that their complaints will not be taken seriously by police and prosecutors occupied by what law enforcement may judge to be more serious problems.
But we’re not talking about anyone imposing a jail term. We’re not talking about any kind of civil judgment. We’re not talking about a court action at all. We’re talking about disciplinary proceedings at a college or university.
Colleges and universities should be fair and should not discriminate, but nothing in Title IX, in its terms or its legislative history, indicates that it was intended to address a problem of overzealous prosecution of male offenders. While DeVos claims to be leveling the playing field in response to the “kangaroo courts” of the Obama era, the actual decisions of the judiciary in many Title IX cases reflect the presence of no such kangaroo courts.
In truth, as any college girl will tell you, the playing field has never been level. Giving more protection to those who don’t need it, at the expense of those who do, is an unusual but Trump-like definition of fairness. Sadly, this time, it comes at the expense of girls who have already been victimized.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.