As Kavanaugh case unfolds, DeVos readies sexual-assault rule

Associated Press


Choking back tears, she testified that he sexually assaulted her. Defensive and angry and choking back tears, he swore that he did not.

The dramatic Senate testimony last week by Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh came as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos considers new guidelines that could drastically change the way allegations of sexual violence are investigated on college campuses.

Brett Sokolow, a lawyer who heads an association of sexual-harassment investigators on campuses, said his colleagues closely watched the hearing and may use it for future trainings.

“If this was a student, would I believe them, would I not?” Sokolow said. “Who comes out being credible?”

DeVos has argued that the policy put in place under President Barack Obama is skewed against the accused. She is expected to issue new rules in the near future.

At stake is whether schools should require higher standards of evidence when handling complaints and whether both parties should have access to that evidence. Also under review is the use of mediators and the possibility of the accuser and the accused cross-examining each other.

DeVos’ new guidelines are expected to address whether schools should have to investigate as soon as they are aware of alleged misconduct or only after a student files a formal complaint.

Many victims of sexual violence never take that step. Ford didn’t, and only acted decades later when she learned that Kavanaugh was on a short list for the Supreme Court.

Advocates point to the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal at Michigan State University and say that victims are shocked and unwilling to relive their traumatic experience. They say it should be the school’s responsibility to investigate.

“It is the debate that we are having about how to handle these allegations on high-school and college campuses,” said Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

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