On May 6, the U.S. Department of Education released controversial new regulations regarding the federal civil rights law Title IX.
As an addition to the 14th Amendment from the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX states that sexual discrimination is not permitted in American schools.
The new regulations require alleged victims of sexual assault to be subjected to cross-examination and live hearings.
Cross-examination in these cases is typically when the defense’s lawyer will attempt to get the witness, or alleged victim, to say something helpful to the defense’s side or cast doubt on the witness’ credibility, according to Cornell Law School.
Proponents of the new regulations, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, believe that cross-examination will show a distinction between those who are lying about their assault and those who are telling the truth. It is meant to allow a fair trial for all who are involved.
DeVos said these new regulations will guarantee due process and ensure that the accused are innocent until proven guilty, as reported in the Detroit Free Press.
While the Title IX changes affect all institutions that receive federal financial assistance, this is especially concerning to college students, who face alarming assault rates on college campuses.
The 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault solicited by the Association of American Universities found that among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of women and 5.4 percent of men experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.
Some victims may not report their assault because they are afraid of what they could be subjected to during a trial, which will only worsen the already alarmingly low rates of incidents reported in America. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) believes that only 15.8 to 35 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police.
On May 14, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of four advocacy groups — Know Your IX, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc., Girls for Gender Equality and Stop Sexual Assault in Schools — to block the new provision before it’s enacted Aug. 14, according to NBC News.
According to the suit, the new rules would place “a heavier burden on those alleging sexual harassment than on students who allege other forms of harassment.” The new rule doesn’t apply to students who allege racial, national origin or disability discrimination.
Those who criticized the ruling are also concerned about retraumatizing the victims. In 2015, A Harvard professor who studies the causes of mental illnesses found that 50 percent of all post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases in the United States are the result of a sexual assault experience.
Attempting to question the victim with cross-examination may trigger their fight or flight, as many PTSD victims have intense panic responses when reminded of their trauma.
Although cross-examination may seem like it will help determine whether or not the victim is lying, it is quite unlikely that they are. Research done by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in 2009 showed that 2-8 percent of sexual assault claims are false. That rate is miniscule compared to the one assault that happens every 73 seconds, according to the BJS’ 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey.
Some organizations have provided the justice system with new ideas for handling a sexual assault trial without omitting due process. The National Crime Victim Law Institute suggested that victims give their testimony via videoconference, reducing the amount of time the victim needs to be in the same room as their alleged assaulter and minimize potential pressures a victim could feel to retract their statement.
Victims don’t have an equal opportunity to succeed if they’re forced to either relive trauma or have their assaulter walk free. By getting rid of this new regulation and allowing victims to give their testimony without the pressures of their assaulter being in the same room, we can grant them the ability to succeed in school and in life.
Teegan Oshins is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.