Combating bias is necessary in fight against sexual misconduct

Alisha Griffin, Contributing Writer

I do not consider myself a pundit on the inner workings of politics, nor do I consider myself an expert on the way education should be handled, though I do have many strong opinions on the matter. But I knew from the start that Betsy DeVos would be detrimental for students and parents across the nation, regardless of race or socioeconomic class or religion or any of those labels that we place on ourselves. I do not support her in her role as Secretary of Education.

But when it comes to the “Dear Colleague Letter,” she has a point.

Some may not have heard of the “Dear Colleague Letter,” (DCL) but we have seen its effects in organizations such as Speak Up!, ‘Ray Consent, as well as in anti-sexual assault and bystander fliers in the bathrooms and on the walls. The DCL aimed to keep universities and colleges across the nation accountable for sexual assault cases, or else lose funding. But, our Secretary of Education wants to revoke this letter, claiming that it does not reflect the current reality of college campuses. It is DeVos’s view that the letter barely passes in its attempt to give more of a voice to victims and it utterly fails in giving the accused a voice. In response, President John Bravman sent out an email to all University students responding to Secretary DeVos’s statement last Thursday. 

Perhaps some ignored the email. Some probably skimmed over it briefly. That’s fine— it was Friday afternoon, after all. In his email, President Bravman denounced Secretary DeVos’ intentions to rescind the DCL, upholding Bucknell’s policy on sexual assault on campus.

I have read the “Dear Colleague Letter.” I have also read the transcript of Betsy DeVos’s speech. I have attended the orientations such as Speak Up!. I have heard firsthand stories of people who have been sexually assaulted by people who they thought they loved— and assaulted at a far younger age than anyone on this campus. I have sifted through data spanning from 1995 to 2016. And I, personally, have come to a conclusion: We have a bias towards the victims when it comes to sexual assault, especially female victims.

During the Speak Up! orientation program, we were asked:“True or False: false accusations of sexual assault are prevalent,” or something of that matter. I said true: people can accuse individuals, of sexually assaulting them and can ruin (perhaps intentionally) the lives of the falsely accused.

The slide said false, with some data from more than five years ago. The presenter then spoke to me and said that victims are hurt by sexual assault too. I wanted right then and there to say, “I know, I’ve heard them talk to me, I’ve watched them cry as they recalled repressed memories,” but at the moment I was too frustrated to say anything. I regret that now.

For too long we have been ignoring the victims of sexual assault in America, and only recently have their stories been given more ground in the justice system. But as an unintended result of giving the survivors of sexual assault a voice, I think we have also given the means for people to ruin the lives of significant others, co-workers, bosses— anyone whom they dislike or hate in some way. The truth is that some people are accused of sexual assault with little to no evidence of the matter and that can ruin their lives just as sexual assault can ruin the lives of survivors. But it must be noted that false reporting does happen far less than actual instances of rape do, with only two to ten percent of all reported cases being proven to be false claims. 

I believe that in attempting to give the accused a stronger voice, we run into the same problem that plagued sexually assaulted victims in the past— being accused of “deserving it,” “wanting it,” or simply accusing out of spite.  Does that further reduce the chances of victims speaking up and reporting instances of sexual assault? 

This issue should be decided by people who are much more intelligent and knowledgeable about the justice system than I am, but it should also be decided by people who can see the argument on both sides.

The DCL should not be revoked, but it should be looked at and revised as any piece of legislation should be. Perhaps it worked in 2011, but I think it needs to be changed in 2017.

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