Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
On Wednesday, the Education Department released its new Title IX regulations, which claim to provide stronger due process rights in sexual assault hearings to both the accused and their accusers. In reality, these new regulations only create further confusion and contempt for this country’s college sexual assault investigations.
Colleges are now required to provide live sexual assault hearings and allow students’ advisers or lawyers to cross-examine witnesses during the hearing. Colleges will get to decide what’s a “reasonably prompt” time to respond to complaints, meaning universities could extend hearings as long as they want. Even worse, universities are now only obligated to respond to reports of sexual assaults committed in university-affiliated programming and housing. This allows them to ignore off-campus incidents.
These regulations demonstrate the Education Department’s failure to complete its sole responsibility: advocating for all students. In the case of reported sexual assault, this applies to both the accused and the accuser. However, these regulations only further tip the scale of justice toward the accused and will seriously impact the willingness of survivors to come forward.
Nothing about these regulations ensures fairness for both parties in sexual assault cases — if anything, survivors will have to climb a steeper hill to gain justice. It’s already hard enough for victims to go through a university-mediated process without being viciously cross-examined in person by an experienced lawyer.
Now, trauma-informed investigation procedures — such as refraining from asking a victim to recall their attack in graphic detail — won’t be allowed in hearings. Students will have to face potentially brutal cross-examinations as if they were in a scene straight out of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
While federal law requires universities to report sexual assault cases, the higher education justice system operates differently than a court of law. In a criminal case, it’s a battle between the defendant and the state — not the survivor. Universities are supposed to support and protect the survivor through unique methods that the state can’t give: providing mental health resources, changing housing assignments, ensuring survivors won’t have to take a class with their assailant.
The criminal justice system, which already has an abysmal success rate for sexual assault convictions, simply doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate survivors. So it’s up to universities to protect them, and these new policies make that even more difficult. Universities need to be able to make the choices to best support all students. These regulations take that ability away.
It’s crucial to support survivors. It’s also crucial to ensure that those being accused are able to exercise their full constitutional rights. But those two things don’t have to conflict with each other. Universities, designed to put the interests of their students first, are now being forced to handle sexual assault cases like the criminal justice system, making the whole process even worse. These regulations claim to place the rights of the accused over the rights of the accuser in the name of due process, but they only further harm the survivor.
Maya Rosenberg is a sophomore journalism and public policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.