Evidence standards changed for campus assault investigations

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos talks with students during a high school football game between Eastern Hancock and Knightstown, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in Charlottesville, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

By MARIA DANILOVA

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday scrapped Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assault, replacing it with new instructions that allow universities to require higher standards of evidence when handling complaints.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said that President Barack Obama’s policy had been unfairly skewed against those accused of assault and had “weaponized” the Education Department to “work against schools and against students.”

The change is the latest in Trump’s broader effort to roll back Obama policies. Women’s rights groups slammed Friday’s decision, saying it will discourage students from reporting assault.

The guidance released in 2011 and then updated in 2014 instructed universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when assessing and investigating a claim of sexual assault.

DeVos’ new interim guidelines let colleges choose between that standard and a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is harder to meet. Those rules will be in place temporarily while the Education Department gathers comments from interest groups and the public and writes new guidance.

“To be very clear, one sexual assault is one too many. It is horrible and lamentable,” DeVos told those attending the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Friday night in Michigan.

“But the current failed system didn’t work for students, it didn’t work for institutions, it didn’t work for anyone,” she said in explaining the decision. “It didn’t work because unelected and unaccountable political appointees pushed the guidance through without any period for comment from those who walk side by side with students every day. The time of ineffective and inefficient mandates is over.”

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said the new rule will have a “devastating” impact on students and schools.

“It will discourage students from reporting assaults, create uncertainty for schools on how to follow the law, and make campuses less safe,” Graves said in a statement. “This misguided directive is a huge step back to a time when sexual assault was a secret that was swept under the rug.”

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