Lest anyone forget: it was the voices of survivors that echoed national policy changes to campus sexual assault in 2011. It was the voices of survivors that were heard when the White House Task Force created standards for survivor centered investigations and to hold universities accountable for mishandling their cases. It is the voices of survivors that create documentaries like The Hunting Ground. It is our voices that will stand beside you to challenge those with power who are determined to silence you.
Survivors will not be silenced, and neither will we.
Betsy DeVos, the newly appointed Secretary of Education, who has eluded to scaling back federal protections for campus sexual assault, met with survivors and advocates, campus administrators, campus legal counsel, and Title IX officers on July 13th. Glaringly missing from this list was the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the leading national organization advocating for survivors. Also missing were organizations like Know Your IX, a student- and survivor-led organization that advocates for the right of all students to pursue education free from violence. DeVos did, however, make time to meet with the National Coalition for Men.
From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem equitable to hear all sides of an issue and especially to hear from men, who should always be our allies in this work. Upon researching the National Coalition for Men, however, I quickly came to believe that its main purpose is to silence survivors. This group often posts pictures of campus survivors on websites claiming that they are “false accusers” in cases where the university disciplinary process dismissed reports of sexual misconduct, a strategy that implicitly punishes survivors for engaging in the protected behavior of reporting rape, and discourages other survivors from doing so in the future.
Keep in mind that university sexual assault cases (reported and investigated) do not always result in disciplinary action. If found responsible for sexual misconduct, only 13 to 30 percent of offenders are expelled, others are just suspended, and some receive only probation and educational sanctions.
In other words, sexual assault (a felony) will result in a possible suspension and those deemed “responsible for sexual assault” (a felony) are allowed back on campus. Meanwhile, students who are victimized face not only the effects of the trauma of the violence, but also the failure of their school to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for them.
Think about it this way: the actual rate of false accusations is between 2% and 8%. If there was reasonable evidence (which there isn’t) that a majority of offenders are falsely accused, there is no substantial penalty anyway. The disciplinary process is meant to be “educational” not “punitive” according to the Association for Student Conduct Administration.
Facts alone should be enough, but to better understand the intent of the National Coalition for Men, here is a 2014 quote from Harry Crouch, the acting President at the time, when he was interviewed by Ted Scheinman for the Pacific Standard:
“This so-called rape crisis situation does not exist. No facts in the universe back this up. They propagandize the whole one in five women will be sexually assaulted by graduation—what does that have to do with college? And think about the way you grew up: Did anyone teach you to go out and rape?”
This group was given 90 minutes on Thursday with Secretary DeVos. By meeting with them, DeVos acknowledged their “horrible plight” of suspension, educational sanctions and probation…for committing the felony crime of sexual assault.
There were so many other male groups DeVos could have met with. There are many compassionate, dedicated men who are involved in organizations that support survivors, advocate for policy change, and work with youth to prevent violence. Their voices are critically important to help destigmatize the experiences of male survivors of sexual assault, and showcase the work they are undertaking to end sexual violence.
But the insult to student survivors is not limited to this. In February 2017, the Departments of Education and Justice revoked previously published guidance on equal access to facilities for transgender students. LGBTQI students suffer violence and sexual assault in high school bathrooms and locker rooms, and LGBTQI youth disproportionately suffer bullying, harassment, and violence.
But it doesn’t end there, either. Candice Jackson, who leads the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, recently told the New York Times that for most sexual assault investigations, there's "not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.” Rather, the accusations — 90% 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,'" she said. Jackson later apologized and called the remark "flippant."
These are the people leading the efforts for equitable education and enforcement of Title IX.
What signal is this sending to survivors, advocates, the LGBTQI community, legitimate men’s groups… basically everyone working to support survivors and end sexual violence?
Instead of shaking our heads and wringing our hands in disgust, now more than ever, we must come together and act.
Survivors: Secretary DeVos does not represent you or your experiences. At OAESV we hear you along with the rest of the national movement to end sexual violence, and we will do all that we can to elevate your voices. We will keep pushing against the misogyny, apathy, and ignorance that enable sexual violence to continue. We believe you and support you, today and always.
Advocates: We know how hard you work each day to ease the suffering of survivors. Your empowerment of survivors allows them to use their voices to affect change. We thank you for your courage, we thank you for willingness to hold the experience of survivors, and we thank you for being in this field. Keep fighting for what is right and know that OAESV stands with you.
Friends, Family, and Community Members: We can’t do this work in a bubble. We need your support now more than ever.
Support OAESV and your local Rape Crisis Center. Please donate or volunteer!
Write or call Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, and the Office of Civil Rights and demand equity in education for all including LGBTQI, people with disabilities, people of color, and campus survivors of sexual assault.
Put taglines on your emails in support of survivors.
Post and share stories on social media that support survivors and promote prevention of sexual violence.
We all play a part in ending sexual violence. We need your voices now more than ever to create safer spaces in educational institutions and our communities at large. We cannot allow Secretary DeVos or groups like the National Coalition for Men to be the loudest voices when it comes to sexual violence. There are more of us.
It’s time we get good and loud.
By Ann Brandon, Training & Technical Assistance Specialist, OAESV