After months of receiving requests for meetings from advocates for sexual assault survivors, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has finally decided to sit down with them. But she’s also meeting with groups that are critical of Title IX guidance on campus rape, some of which have histories of intimidating rape survivors and dismissing domestic abuse against women.
The department reached out to the National Coalition for Men, SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, and Families Advocating for Campus Equality, according to Politico.
DeVos has not taken a position on 2011 education department guidance on campus sexual assault, which expanded protections for sexual assault survivors by requiring all schools to have procedures in place to handle and quickly investigate complaints. But her decision to meet with these groups isn’t a good sign.
The National Coalition for Men, which was founded in the 1970s, has a long history of what is now known as “men’s rights activism.” One of the groups’ chapters published the photos and names of women, while calling them “false accusers.”
In 2012, the group supported the Republican House version of the Violence Against Women Act, which removed protections for LGBTQ people in crisis centers. The group has been very litigious when it notices events specifically designated as for women. Its members sued a strip club for letting women in for free during its “ladies night” and sued a company called Chic CEO for not letting men into a women’s networking event.
Harry Crouch, president of National Coalition for Men, has also vocally blamed survivors for the abuse they faced. In a 2014 interview with Pacific Standard, Crouch defended Ray Rice, a former football player, who was indicted in 2014 on third-degree aggravated assault for an incident involving his then fiancee. “I’m not saying he’s a good guy,” Crouch said. “But if she hadn’t aggravated him, she wouldn’t have been hit. They would say that’s blaming the victim. But I don’t buy it.”
SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is included in a list of misogynist websites put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In 2013, SAVE published an article alleging that many civil rights, like the “right to privacy in family affairs,” have been “undermined by domestic violence laws.”
Assuming that the article, which is still on the site, represents its views, SAVE also thinks attorneys should be able to ask “detailed, often intrusive questions about the accuser’s prior sexual history.” The group takes issue with a federal rule that, with a few exceptions, protects survivors by not allowing evidence of a victim’s sexual behavior to be admissible in court.
Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE) is a non-profit founded a few years ago by mothers of sons who were accused of sexual misconduct while they attended college. The website describes the “ruined futures” of the accused and “havoc of unjustly dismantled lives.” Under the text, “Title IX’s future victims,” the site published the story of a man who said he was falsely accused of rape and equates his experience to that of a rape survivor.
“Falsely accused students suffer emotional trauma similar to that of rape victims, and yet receive no emotional support from their colleges,” the site reads.
Researchers estimate that somewhere between 2 to 10 percent of rape allegations are false, but even among those who are falsely accused, it’s rare for men to end up in prison as a result. For students who are found responsible for sexual assault, only 30 percent were actually expelled, according to a 2014 Huffington Post analysis of data from over 100 schools.
But that hasn’t stopped FACE. One of its founders, Sherry Warner-Seefeld, told the National Review that on the whole, she found it “dangerous to our country” to require universities to conduct annual surveys on sexual assault and publish the results online.
Hosting these groups further hints that Devos may be open to rescinding the 2011 expanded guidance on Title IX protecting sexual assault survivors. During her confirmation hearing in January, Devos said there were “conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance” and said it “would be premature” to commit to upholding the guidance.
DeVos has also donated to a group that opposed the guidance. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation made donations totaling $25,000 to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has shared articles dismissive of sexual assault survivors. One read, “Unfortunately, much of the feminist ‘war on rape’ has conflated sexual assault with muddled, often alcohol-fueled, sexual encounters that involve miscommunication.”
In April, the department welcomed Candice Jackson as the deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which oversees investigations into how universities handle campus rape. Jackson has previously called the women who accused Trump of sexual assault during the campaign “fake victims.”
Whatever the department decides on the 2011 guidance, it is already making moves that would adversely affect sexual assault survivors. An internal Office for Civil Rights memo sent by Jackson narrows the approach of investigations into civil rights complaints, which includes campus rape. This means that the department will stop requiring staff to look at three years of complaint information in order to understand systemic discrimination within a school district or university. The memo also loosened oversight of regional offices.
This article has been clarified to show that FIRE shared but did not publish an article about campus rape sexual assault.