U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced new Title IX regulations that detail how colleges must investigate sexual assault cases.
The regulation makes new specifications for the definition of sexual harassment, requires supportive measures for survivors and establishes procedures for sexual assault investigations on campus, according to a Department of Education news release.
According to the release, the new regulations establish how schools must handle sexual misconduct cases under the federal law Title IX. This includes what the release calls “due process protections” in campus proceedings which include live hearings, and the ability to test the credibility of both parties.
Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, outlaws discrimination based on sex in schools that receive money from the federal government.
The text of Title IX itself does not specifically mention sexual assault or give universities guidelines for handling sexual assault cases. Currently, colleges handle disciplinary measures individually.
At the University of Georgia, sexual assault complaints are handled by the Equal Opportunity Office. UGA has a Code of Conduct and a Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy. UGA also follows the University System of Georgia’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy.
“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in the release.
In November 2018, the Department of Education proposed new policies for dealing with sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. This proposal was edited based on public input and has now been finalized in the new regulation.
The new regulation defines sexual harassment as behavior that meets one of three criteria. One is the Supreme Court’s Davis definition of sexual harassment, which is harassment that is “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” and “undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience,” according to a Department of Education document that details the new provisions.
“Quid pro quo,” when a school employee coerces sexual favors from a student in exchange for academic benefits, is also classified as sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment also includes dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault as defined in the Clery Act, according to the document.
The release said the new Title IX policy will establish a uniform process for final adjudication of sexual assault cases.
The new regulation requires the school to provide a legal framework to investigate claims of sexual assault and to offer clear, accessible options for any person to report sexual harassment. Schools are also required to offer class or dorm reassignment and no-contact orders to survivors.
Colleges will be held responsible for off-campus sexual harassment at houses owned or under the control of school-sanctioned fraternities and sororities, according to the release.
According to the release, the new process includes laying out a series of procedures for reporting cases and provisions that allow those accused to question evidence and cross-examine accusers.
Only relevant questions are allowed during cross-examination. The parties must explain why the question is relevant, and the person adjudicating must explain their reasoning if they exclude a question.
“This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process,” DeVos said in the release.
Yet critics say the measure hurts sexual assault survivors’ credibility and will discourage them from coming forward. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing DeVos and the Department of Education to block provisions of the new regulation, according to a Thursday news release.
“This is another example of how sexual assault survivors are assumed to be liars from the moment they come forward in this country,” said Jack Henry Decker, the former executive director of the Young Democrats of UGA.
The new rules are set to go into effect in August.