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After Meeting With Men’s Rights Groups, Betsy DeVos Plans to Roll Back Title IX Sexual Assault Protections

Earlier this summer, education secretary Betsy DeVos met with activist groups to discuss the rape epidemic happening on college campuses. That sounds all well and good until you remember that Betsy DeVos has never shown any regard for the needs of underrepresented communities, and realize how many of those “activists” were men’s rights advocates.

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She was reportedly looking for guidance on rolling back Obama-era protections for assault victims. Under Title IX, there is a mandatory standard procedure for all colleges and universities receiving federal funding when addressing allegations of sexual assault. Many of the groups she met with think these protections trample the rights of the accused. These are also the types of groups who think the majority of rape accusations are fake.

DeVos announced today her plans to transform the federal policy on campus assault, though she didn’t go into specifics about how she will address alleged abuses of Title IX. Rather, her lengthy speech was full of anecdotes designed specifically to let those groups know she’s listening and she cared about them, far more than she cares about victims of assault. DeVos dove head first into the sea of “both sides are to blame” talking points, saying “the rights of one person can never be paramount to the rights of another.”

The speech was essentially one long men’s rights dog whistle.

She also wants to limit the scope of what constitutes assault and harassment, saying schools need to be “more precise in the definition of sexual misconduct” and “if everything is harassment, then nothing is.”

DeVos wants to remove the government from schools. In her simplistic opinion, we need to recognize that schools exist “to educate.” Obviously, this is true, but in order to make sure students are educated, they need to be protected. DeVos is of the ‘things will sort themselves out’ school of thought that only the very privileged are able to trust. Just as we’ve seen her discuss with all manner of marginalized students, she will not entertain the fact that government guidelines exist because people were not previously being protected.

DeVos says that the government should have let schools handle issues of sexual assault on their own. “Rather than inviting everyone to the table, the Department [of Education] insisted it knew better than those who walk side-by-side with students every day. That will no longer be the case.” Victims of sexual assault were falling through the cracks because the system that is supposed to be there every day wasn’t protecting them. Getting out of the way and letting them set the rules didn’t work then. It’s certainly not going to work now. And DeVos knows this.

There is no chance at all that anything DeVos said today, or anything she plans to do in the future, is for the purpose of helping victims of sexual assault or harassment. She has a history of donating money to men’s rights and otherwise bigoted groups. In 2012 and 2013 she and her husband made at least two donations of $5,000 each to FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. This week, FIRE released a report this week that DeVos no doubt read, which claims “Due process and fundamental fairness are in crisis on America’s college and university campuses.”

FIRE is an anti-victims’ rights group that sued the Obama administration, demanding they up the burden of proof for rape accusers. In their mission statement, they deride the idea of “diversity training” and claim that pushing the “significance of diversity” is a violation of the First Amendment.

That is who this speech today was for. This wasn’t about the rights of “both sides.” It was about the rights of men with a stake in maintaining an unequal playing field, and who think that any step towards equality, towards valuing the rights of others, is persecution.

(image: screengrab)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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