Poor Women, Wealthy Men, and the New School Sexual Assault Regulations

Because of the media’s focus on the coronavirus, one story that has gone somewhat (but not completely) under the radar is the changes that United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put into place for regulations that replaced Obama-era guidelines on how sexual assault accusations are dealt with at schools.

According to National Public Radio, which did a rather thorough piece on these changes, “Among the most significant changes are new regulations aimed at beefing up protections for accused college students, by mandating live hearings by adjudicators who are neither the Title IX coordinator nor the investigator, and real-time cross examination of each student by the other student’s lawyer or representative.”[1] I want to zero in on the change I quoted here, because this is a regulation that will likely end up harming poor women the most and helping wealthy men the most.

In making this argument, it’s worth saying that the real-time cross examination is something that advocates worry will open up wounds for survivors of the assaults under investigation. While yes, there are absolutely male survivors of sexual assault, as well as survivors who do not fall within the male-female gender binary,[2] this is a change that disproportionately hurts women in general, as women of school age are much more likely to be survivors of sexual violence than men of school age.[3] Therefore, when we’re talking about cross examination opening up wounds for survivors, we are most of the time talking about opening up wounds for female survivors of sexual assault. This change will harm women in general.

However, this change will harm poor women the most. This real-time cross examination by the other student’s lawyer or representative, in effect, results in a double whammy for poor people who are survivors: emotional wounds opened up by cross examination by the defendant, and then an inability to spend the money to hire a good lawyer or representative to answer in any effective way to the cross examination. As most survivors are women, this double whammy for poor people who are survivors will predominantly affect poor women. I just hope that there are lawyers/representatives out there willing to potentially do some pro bono work here because otherwise, I don’t see how poor women who are survivors stand much of a shot at getting justice in sexual assault cases under the DeVos guidelines.

On the other hand, these new regulations will likely end up helping wealthy men because: a) most perpetrators are men and b) the male perpetrators who come from wealthy families will be able to spend on the best lawyer/representative money can buy in order to fend off any accusations. Unless the survivor comes from a situation of economic wealth and can have the ability to hire good lawyers, the side of the wealthy male perpetrator is well positioned to win the legal case.

As to the results of these DeVos changes, I do tend to agree with advocates that this will likely have a chilling effect on reporting in general. However, I fear it will have a particularly chilling effect on reporting from poor women survivors of sexual assault. While some people may take pride in being right on something, this is a case where I really hope I am wrong.

Please note that because of Memorial Day, I will not publish a post next Monday.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2020/05/06/851733630/federal-rules-give-more-protection-to-students-accused-of-sexual-assault

[2] And if you’re a male survivor of assault or a survivor who doesn’t fit within the male-female gender binary, your story is no less valid because you are not a woman.

[3] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

12 Replies to “Poor Women, Wealthy Men, and the New School Sexual Assault Regulations”

  1. A rock and a hard place. All accusations of sexual assault must be investigated. We are still considered innocent until proven guilty (or we should be). I was skeptical of these changes at first, but then I got to thinking about the person being accused. There seems to be an assumption of guilt. That is not how our system is supposed to work. The person doing the accusing has the right to accuse, so the person being accused should have the right to challenge, no?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, so my post focused more on the financial and mental health implications than the legal implications per se (and I’m not a legal expert by any means). But I’ll answer to the legal issues as best as I can.

      Yeah, proponents of the changes are arguing that it is now innocent until proven guilty for the accused, instead of guilty until proven innocent for the accused. However, I think there are also concerns that with our criminal justice system, the accusers are oftentimes presumed to be “making it up/being dramatic” until being proven otherwise, which is also not what our criminal justice system calls for either (or, at least, not what it should call for). As I said, I’m not a legal expert, but that’s just something I’ve observed with how sexual assault has been handled in the legal realm.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I doubt that you are wrong, my friend. Under DeVos’ new rules, we have taken a step backward and most women will be far less inclined to report cases of sexual assault or abuse. And that, after all, was the goal for Ms. DeVos and her rich cronies, wasn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, one of the concerns about these changes is that it would end up making it harder for women to want to report sexual assault or abuse on campus or at school. Whether intended or not, it seems like that will likely be the result.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have to admit, I would be less inclined to report an incident knowing that I was not likely to be believed and knowing that I would be grilled by a well-paid lawyer, when all I could afford would be a court-appointed one. I would also, though, if I were a young woman on a college campus these days, be inclined to keep a can of mace in my pocket. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This raises another issue which has bothered e for many years. Why should colleges be involved at all in these complaints? Colleges like to minimize any hint of sexual problems to keep their stats down and not discourage parents from sending their daughters there. Any charge of sexual crimes (and these are crimes) should be submitted by the college to local law authorities. Period. It is not the job of the college to make these decisions. These should be legal matters handled by legal authorities. These are adults, not children. Treat them as such.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment gets at an issue that is actually really bothersome–the reporting (or sometimes, a lack thereof) of assaults by the colleges themselves. My alma mater was actually in the midst of a controversy earlier this calendar year about not having truthful numbers on sexual assault (among other things). The colleges (not just on this, but a variety of things) often have the best interest of protecting their own reputations, which is not necessarily what is best for public safety.

      Liked by 1 person

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