Conservative Woman or Radical Feminist? It’s Hard to Tell with Betsy DeVos
The revised Title IX regulations have at last been released after years of consultation, and contrary to the uproar surrounding them, they do not represent a dramatic change for colleges dealing with sexual misconduct allegations. In fact, despite ‘Sky is falling’ squeals from feminist organizations and a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, not much will be different for accuser and accused under the new system, and that is a shocking tragedy for America’s college men.
What happened to the promise of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to respect due process? To protect the constitutional rights of the accused? All seems to have fallen away under a welter of promises to “support survivors.”
Overall, DeVos’s regulations still require colleges to adjudicate even the most serious of sexual misconduct allegations, a task they are woefully ill-equipped to do; they still allow tribunals to use the preponderance of the evidence model, the lowest possible standard, to determine responsibility; and they still provide the accuser with the right to appeal a tribunal decision, opening the accused to double jeopardy. The sensible amendments—such as narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, allowing accused students to hire lawyers (if they can afford to do so), and mandating that accused students see written statements of the case against them—amount to little more than tinkering with a disastrously bad structure.
Listening to DeVos’s video presentation and reading through the more than 2000 page regulations document, I am dumbfounded by the extent to which feminist presuppositions about rape and justice have influenced even this supposedly non-feminist reformer.
Early on in her presentation, DeVos declares that “Our rule empowers survivors like never before. The pain suffered by each survivor due to sexual misconduct can be lasting and profound.”
By survivors, of course—and it’s a word she uses far too many times—DeVos is referring exclusively to alleged victims of sexual misconduct, not to victims of false allegations. “Survivor” is a feminist term applied almost exclusively to female accusers in order to make it seem the accusation must be true. Yet from Emma Sulkowicz to Rolling Stone’s Jackie, from Crystal Mangum to Nikki Yovino, and many more, there have been plenty of high and low profile instances of false accusations that profoundly damaged innocent men’s lives. In the last-mentioned case, for example, college girl Nikki Yovino claimed that two football players from her school had raped her at an off-campus party. She later confessed to police that she made up the double allegation because it was the first thing that came to her mind after she’d had consensual sex in the ladies’ washroom with the two men. She was a real class act, hoping the story would help her win sympathy from a potential boyfriend. The two men, one of whom testified at her sentencing—where she plea bargained for a year in jail–lost their scholarships and their chance to play college football. Horrific stories like these deserve recognition; these men’s pain is also “lasting and profound.” But we don’t hear a word about it from DeVos.
After discussing the problems with the implementation of the Obama-era regulations, she pitches her reform as a restoration of justice for both accuser and accused. But when she explains why justice matters so much, her entire emphasis is on justice for “survivors” (see 9:55):
“Justice is not a political issue. It can only come from a process everyone can trust, a process widely believed to deliver fair and reliable results. The outcome of the failed approach created by the previous administration’s letter was a lack of faith in the system, a lack of confidence in the outcomes. And that’s not fair to anyone, most of all to survivors. Too often, these young women and men suffered unthinkable acts, mustered the courage to report them, endured a grievance process, and thought they had achieved justice, only to have it overturned in courts of law.”
Here the bias in favor of the alleged survivor completely overshadows concern for the accused whose rights were violated and who, often many years later, after his public shaming as a rapist and the loss of his career dreams, after the stress and horror and depression of having everything he worked for destroyed, finally had the injustice he endured recognized in a court of law. His pain, his terror, his outrage, his damaged standing in his community: none of these visibly registers with DeVos. All she can see, and with dramatically phrased sympathy, is the frustration of the accuser who witnesses the college ruling overturned, though the accuser is not in any way harmed by that overturning. The message could not be clearer: the system has failed the accusing women, not the men whose constitutional rights were violated and who had to spend years clearing their names and seeking legal restitution. DeVos refuses to face the obvious fact that at least some if not most of the allegations against these accused men were either fabricated, frivolous, or not acts of assault or harassment at all. At this point, she has either consciously capitulated to the feminist worldview, or is so deep in denial that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
The problem, I realized as I came near the end of DeVos’s statement, is that she can’t bring herself to use the phrase “false accusation.” It does not appear in her video presentation at all, to my knowledge, and without it, the real importance of due process can never be fully defended. When she finally mentions the hundreds of successful lawsuits exposing the bad treatment of the men, she carefully chooses cases that don’t involve a lying or malicious accuser. In one of these cases, the accuser was a third-party witness, and the girlfriend of the accused was not even consulted or allowed to testify on behalf of the accused, so even though he was the one who went through the hell of the accusation, the woman was also to some extent an injured party.
DeVos’s inability or refusal to discuss false allegations requires that she twist herself into various verbal pretzels to avoid ever blaming any accusing woman, even going so far as to claim that due process is “not just for the accused,” as if we should always be mainly concerned with the needs and requirements of women, even when it is the man’s career and reputation that hang in the balance.
Because I believe that colleges have no business trying students accused of sexual misconduct, I would have been dissatisfied even if DeVos had extensively revised the Title IX rules; but I could at least have admired her effort. As it is, DeVos’s intervention is an almost unmitigated failure. It fails because it doesn’t imagine the tribunal process even for a moment from the male accused’s point of view. It doesn’t accept that male suffering really matters. Gynocentrism, not fairness, is its core value.