Under the proposed rule changes from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the definition of sexual harassment or assault would be narrowed to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity”, according to The New York Times.
Even more worryingly, the measures would allow the accused to “confront” their accusers in cross-examinations and mediation and have access to evidence – even when that evidence wasn’t being used in a criminal or disciplinary situation.
Compare this to rules introduced in 2011 by the Obama Administration which avoided this kind of mediation – even when both parties agreed to it – because of the risk of trauma or intimidation.
Report rates of sexual harassment and assault at US colleges are dramatically low – in 2015, 89 per cent said they had zero cases of rape according to the Department of Education.
Yet studies show around 20 per cent of American women have been sexually assaulted on campus.
The Education Department says they are still debating the changes and the Times report is “premature” – but if the rules are approved, they would pass straight into law.
The previous rules may have had their flaws – but we can’t see how these changes will encourage more people to come forward.