In 2011, the Obama administration set guidelines for colleges and universities to follow when handling sexual assault and harassment allegations. The Department of Education’s Civil Rights Division sent letters to over 7,000 colleges and universities that receive federal funding advising them to “lower the standard of proof required to find a student guilty of a sexual offense.” This change notably altered the procedure for sexual assault investigations and allowed victims toavoid open hearings and the trauma of being cross-examined and having their claims scrutinized.
Recently, many of the accused under the 2011 protocol have challenged this framework claiming they are being denied due process and wrongfully punished and/or expelled for false allegations. In response, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is expected to release a complete revision to guidelines for how colleges and universities must handle sexual assault and harassment allegations sometime before this Thanksgiving. These new rules have been declared to “reduce liability for universities, tighten the definition of sexual harassment, and allow schools to use a higher standard in evaluating claims of sexual harassment and assault.” Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register it will be open for public review and comment before it becomes finalized.
Finding the right balance in these delicate and difficult situations is the key -- and this is far from an easy task. Victims’ rights advocates worry that the new guidelines will discourage victims from coming forward with complaints while others feel that the standards set in 2011 did not provide the accused the rights they deserve to defend themselves. We encourage you to read through the article on this important and evolving issue in education and BLG will continue to keep you updated on the developments. #stayengagedwithusatBLG!