EDITORIAL: New rules victimize sexual assault victims again

York Dispatch
FILE - In this June 5, 2018 file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations hearing in Washington. The dramatic Senate testimony by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford comes as DeVos considers new guidelines that could drastically change the way allegations of sexual violence are investigated on college campuses. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Every sexual assault is different. Every victim of sexual assault is unique.

And yet, in some ways, every sexual assault is the same.

One person puts themselves into a position where they can use violence, drugs or other methods to force another person to perform the most intimate of acts.

And on college campuses, sexual assault is a constant, pernicious threat.

Advocates for victims of sexual assault on campus say as many as one in five female college students and one in 20 male college students are assaulted during their college years.

Only 20 percent of female victims report the assaults, and even fewer males report it, according to It's On Us, an organization devoted to changing the culture on college campuses to end sexual assaults.

Since 2016, It's On Us and It's On Us Pa have worked to get students and others on college campuses to recognize sexual assault for the crime that it is and both pledge not to commit assault and pledge to help victims and potential victims by getting them out of situations that could lead to assaults.

More:Kavanaugh case unfolds as DeVos readies sexual assault rules

And yet the Trump administration, in its ongoing effort to do away with anything decent accomplished during the Obama years, is targeting guidelines that have made it easier for victims of sexual assault to move on and continue their education.

Obama-era guidelines for campuses forced colleges to investigate assaults that occurred between two students, no matter where those assaults took place. They also said schools had to investigate allegations of sexual assault if the institution should have known about the allegations.

A year ago, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said those guidelines were going to change, with the thought being that those accused of sexual assault weren't being heard.

“Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” DeVos said in September 2017. “These are non-negotiable principles.”

New guidelines from the Department of Education are expected any day. A draft of the new rules would allow colleges to not investigate assaults that take place off campus and those that are not reported to the correct school officials, according to The Atlantic. The victim would be held to the standard of "clear and convincing" evidence of sexual assault rather than the "preponderance of evidence" allowed under the Obama guidelines.

The new rules would also allow the accused to question the accuser, and vice versa, during a formal disciplinary process.

Sexual assault has been a common theme of the past two years, unfortunately. From the tape of Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women's genitals to the Bill Cosby trial to the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal at Michigan State University to allegations of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, again and again we hear of women who were sexually assaulted and did not report the crime because they didn't believe they would be heard or they didn't want to go through the process of reliving the assault during an investigation.

And again and again, the Trump administration has said, either overtly or covertly, that the rights of the accused matter more than the rights of the accusers in these cases. 

It's the refrain heard by women for decades: You must have done something to lead him on. He's such a nice man, he couldn't have done that. He has such a bright future, why would you take that away from him?

Yes, there are some false reports of rape — an estimated 2 percent to 10 percent of reports, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

And with these new guidelines in place, it's possible overall reports of sexual assault on campus will drop.

But not necessarily because there are fewer assaults — rather, perhaps, because there will be fewer victims willing to go through this process just to be heard.

As Noreen Farrell, director of Equal Rights Advocates, said, “It is a particularly dangerous moment to be a young woman trying to be educated and heard.”