Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new rules for Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded educational institutions. The regulations outline definitions for domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence, putting them all under Title IX’s purview. Now schools will be able to investigate and resolve these cases internally, theoretically allowing victims to avoid a lengthy and thorny process in the court system. In the past, such misconduct fell in a regulatory grey area; some schools chose to handle it based on the rules for sexual assault and harassment, while others claimed it did not qualify for Title IX investigations.
The confusion created a frustrating, dangerous legal landscape for victims. In one highly-publicized case, Lauren McCluskey, a student at the University of Utah, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend after filing over 20 reports of abuse. Despite numerous instances of stalking, domestic violence, and harassment. the university refused to investigate. McCluskey’s parents even petitioned University President Ruth V. Watkins repeatedly, all to no avail. The student’s death, and others like it, were cited as a motivation for the new rules.
The proposed regulations are a positive development in DeVos’ otherwise controversial tenure; a major blindspot in Title IX has now been covered. However, this does not negate the clear harm DeVos has done by rolling back other Title IX protections. Last year, the Department of Education released several amendments favoring the rights of the accused. Supposedly an effort to encourage “due process,” the changes would require both parties to be cross-examined in person. These proceedings could re-traumatize victims, and would dissuade many from ever reporting a crime. Additionally, the DOE narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and made it more difficult to hold institutions legally accountable for failing to address discrimination.
The new rules are a paltry gesture in the context of this larger picture. Most of DeVos’ updates to Title IX read as pointed attempts to dissuade victims from reporting. Since the majority of gender-based violence goes unreported, cries of “due process for the accused” are myopic at best. Adding these new definitions does very little if victims can’t feel safe coming forward.
That said, defining domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence creates a good legal framework. In the future, a more sympathetic iteration of the DOE can utilize them in a stronger version of Title IX. Unfortunately, these increasingly toothless regulations offer little support to students today.
- The Feminist Majority Foundation has an educational equality program. It includes information on Title IX and toolkits for activists.
- The American Association of University Women offers an Ending Campus Sexual Assault Tool Kit intended for student activists.