Sexual Assault Survivors Protest Betsy DeVos Over Title IX Worries
In fall of 2012, Maya Weinstein started attending George Washington University in Washington, DC.
"I was so excited to be in school," she recalls in an interview with Elite Daily. "I was coming from a pretty small, low-energy town to this metropolitan, bustling city."
But only a few weeks into her first semester, she says, she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance.
Recalling the aftermath of her own assault, Weinstein says, "I didn't report, for all of the reasons survivors don't report. But I ended up [reporting him] six months later. I wanted to get a no-contact order, because he and his frat brothers were harassing me."
"In the immediate aftermath of the assault," she says in a follow-up email, "I perceived the campus and the city very differently. I found myself on edge and hyperaware of my surroundings, with less of a desire to explore my new home."
Her story is all too familiar. And it's one of the reasons she participated in Know Your IX and End Rape On Campus' Survivors Speak Out action outside of the Department of Education on Thursday, July 13. Weinstein, along with dozens of other sexual assault survivors, protested Betsy DeVos over concerns about Title IX.
A group of 100 "survivors, allies, and advocates," including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, gathered outside of the Department of Education to share stories and "rally for justice" to preserve a key Title IX directive on July 13.
Title IX, passed in 1972, guarantees protection against discrimination on the basis of sex in all educational settings. The Obama administration famously (and somewhat controversially) used the amendment to define sexual assault as sex-based discrimination in 2011. The Department of Education's "Dear Colleague" letter compelled schools to take accusations of sexual assault seriously or risk losing their federal funding.
The July 13 action was in response to signals that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is preparing to weaken Title IX sexual assault guidances that the Obama administration developed in 2011.
One of those signals? Only days before DeVos's Title IX round-table, her Civil Rights Chief, Candice Jackson, said that she thought "90 percent" of sexual assault accusations stemmed from regret, rather than genuine assault, comments for which she has since apologized.
If the guidances are weakened, advocates fear this could put students at heightened risk of sexual assault.
Approximately one in five female undergraduates are sexually assaulted during their time at college, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and many colleges have abysmal track records of mishandling sexual assault accusations.
The Obama directive compelled schools to provide training, clear grievance procedures, a Title IX Coordinator, and a prompt response to grievances -- all meant to empower survivors and make reporting sexual assault less traumatizing. And while there has been no shortage of high-profile mishandlings of sexual assault accusations after the Dear Colleague letter, advocates like Weinstein stress the importance of these guidelines.
DeVos agreed to meet with advocacy groups about the Title IX guidances -- first, a 90-minute meeting with survivor advocacy groups, and then an additional meeting with men's rights groups.
That she decided to meet with at least one group that has outed survivors before -- and that she only gave survivors 90 minutes to tell their stories -- was, according to Know Your IX Program Manager Mahroh Jahangiri, not enough. And when Know Your IX cofounders Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky wrote a Washington Post op-ed criticizing the department's inclusion of men's rights groups, they were swiftly disinvited from the meeting, according to Brodsky.
In a press release for the action, Jahangiri stated,
One meeting with a small group of survivors isn't enough to understand the complexity of the problem and importance of Title IX's protections. ... Recent statements from the Department of Education – like Candice Jackson's baseless claim that 90% of complaints regard regretted sex, not rape – show the officials tasked with protecting students' civil rights don't understand the nature of sexual violence or its devastating effects on survivors.
The DNC also commented on DeVos's move. Spokesperson Sabrina Singh stated,
DeVos should be working to ensure students are safe in school by increasing resources and programs to end sexual assault on college campuses, and making sure that students who have survived sexual assault have access to essential resources.
Weinstein finally did report her alleged assault -- initially to seek a no-contact order, and then, in summer 2013, to seek a formal complaint after she had allegedly been verbally harassed and even shoved by some of the assailant's friends.
She says it was a lengthy, drawn-out process. The Title IX directive stipulates that cases should be handled in a timely manner; the Department of Education suggests a 60-day period between the initial filing and the end of the case, though that number is not compulsory.
"They violated their own policies and procedures, and by extension, my rights," she alleges.
Weinstein's alleged assailant was eventually found in violation of sexual misconduct, she says, for which he was banned from residence halls. So when she saw him at a residence hall one month later, she called the university police.
But they had no record of her case or contact order.
When she met with Director of the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities, Gabe Slifka, he reportedly told her something strikingly reminiscent of Jackson's comments last week that most rape accusations stem from regret.
"They told me that he deserved to be a student too," Weinstein claims. "They said that I needed to understand how difficult this has been for him."
Elite Daily reached out to then-director Slifka and was redirected to the university's Interim Executive Director of Media Relations. The university did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
Weinstein stresses the importance of directives like Title IX -- one of the reasons she went to the action protesting DeVos.
"I've been involved in advocacy around sexual assault in schools for a while now, and Title IX played a big role in my experience," she says. "Knowing that enforcement is potentially at risk ... It was very powerful to stand in front of the Department of Education."
"I also just want to add that, to me, upholding Title IX regulations is common sense," she says. "It was put into place to ensure all folks can pursue their education, free of violence and harassment, and I find equality to be a very compelling reason to enforce a law."