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Feds To Revisit Campus Rape Policy, An Issue That’s Vexed Indiana

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she will revisit Obama-era sexual assault policies, but did not reveal what specific policy changes the administration intended to make. In this May 23, 2017 photo, DeVos visits Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she will revisit Obama-era sexual assault policies, but did not reveal what specific policy changes the administration intended to make. In this May 23, 2017 photo, DeVos visits Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Federal education officials plan to take a hard look at campus sexual assault policies created by the Obama administration, saying those policies could deprive accused students of their rights. It’s a move infuriating advocates for victims and women who have spent years waging a campaign against what some have called “rape culture” on campuses.

The issue has garnered considerable controversy. And it’s one all too familiar in Indiana.

The federal government is currently conducting 16 investigations into Indiana colleges and universities for possibly mishandling reports of sexual violence.

In a nutshell, here’s what’s happened recently, as the nation’s top education officials reexamine how the government should enforce the law known as Title IX, as it relates to sexual assault:

  • Last Wednesday, the Education Department’s top civil rights official was quoted in the New York Times saying federal rules have resulted in false accusations. “The accusations – 90 percent of them – fall into the category of, ‘We were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself a title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,” Candice Jackson, assistant secretary for civil rights, told the New York Times
  • Following The New York Times article, Jackson apologized for her comment, calling them “flippant.”
  • On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with people who say they were falsely accused and disciplined by amped up efforts by the Obama administration to enforce Title IX laws. She also met with survivors of campus sexual assault and higher education officials and their legal teams.
  • Following those meetings, DeVos made it clear the campus rape policies need updating and clarifying, but did not reveal what specific policy changes the administration intended to make.

Indiana University in Bloomington currently has five open federal investigations into how it handles reports of sexual violence. Only one college in the nation, Cornell University, has more open investigations.

Indiana University is strongly committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all members of its community,” said Margie Smith-Simmons, Indiana University spokesperson, in an April statement. “IU responds vigorously and promptly to all reports of possible sexual assault, and all forms of sexual misconduct, and our Sexual Misconduct policy and conduct procedures assure that our processes are fair and afford appropriate due process protections.”

Other schools with open investigations include Ball State University, Grace College and Seminary, Hanover College, Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, Purdue University at West Lafayette, University of Notre Dame, Valparaiso University and Vincennes University.

Currently, the federal government has 344 open sexual violence investigations at 242 postecondary schools, according to the Education Department.

After DeVos met with survivors of sexual assault and those who say they were falsely accused, she said all are interested in ensuring that the process is fair.

She said, “This is an issue we’re not getting right.”

How Indiana University handles sexual violence reports has come under fire from both survivors and those accused of sexual assault.

A male student expelled from Indiana University in 2015 for sexual misconduct later sued the school, saying “IU violated Title IX by creating a gender biased, hostile environment against males.” A female student said the 21-year-old Aaron Farrer took advantage of her in her drunken state.

The student provided university investigators with a text message from Farrer sent the following morning, where Farrer apologizes saying, “I knew it was wrong and I did it anyways.” Farrer says his text message has been misinterpreted and that his accuser is the one who initiated sexual contact.

In May, Indiana University reached a settlement with a student who sued IU for failing to prevent sexual assault. The student claimed IU violated Title IX by failing to remove the man accused of sexually assaulting her and another woman from campus.

National studies show that only a small percentage — between 2 and 8 percent — of students are wrongfully accused of sexual assault.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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