ARLINGTON, Va. (Reuters) - U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday called for an overhaul of how colleges investigate sexual assault, saying Obama-era guidelines are not working and the rights of the accused are being violated.
DeVos said current guidelines under Title IX U.S. education equality rules fail to do enough to address the due process rights of those accused of sexual assault and the victims of sexual violence.
“It is our moral obligation to get this right,” DeVos said at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. She offered no details on how the administration would revamp the guidelines but said her department would seek comment on alternatives.
The guidelines set up under Democratic President Barack Obama in 2011 have come under fire from critics because of the strict rules colleges must follow when investigating sexual assault complaints or risk losing funding under Title IX, the federal law that bars sexual discrimination in education.
DeVos said too many students had been falsely charged with sexual assault and that schools were terrified about being accused by the Education Department’s civil rights office of ignoring accusations.
DeVos met several weeks ago with both sexual assault victims and men who said they were falsely accused of such violence. She cited examples of what she described as unfair treatment of those who faced charges.
The current guidelines, known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, require colleges to investigate complaints even if there is a separate criminal probe. Unlike in criminal cases, where guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, universities judge students based on a preponderance of evidence.
There were 360 sexual violence cases under investigation at 250 colleges and universities as of Wednesday, according to the Education Department.
The National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group, criticized the proposed revamp, saying it would discourage universities from complying with the law.
“What seems merely procedural is a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault,” the centre said in a statement.
Students and representatives from ,including the National Women’s Law Center, have delivered petitions from more than 100,000 people in support of the “Dear Colleague” letter.
About 30 protesters outside the building where DeVos spoke on Thursday chanted “stop Betsy DeVos” and “stop supporting rapists.”
DeVos is “valuing the rights of the perpetrator over that of the survivor,” said Annie Clark, 28, of Raleigh, North Carolina, the executive director of End Rape on Campus.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Dan Grebler