On Friday, a woman identified only as “Elizabeth Doe” filed a lawsuit against the university in federal court, in which she alleges she was gang-raped by two Baylor Football players in spring 2013. In her complaint, Doe alleges that more than 30 Baylor football players committed at least 52 rapes, including five gang rapes, over the course of a four-year period.
All of this ties into Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos and Title IX. How? Doe’s lawsuit against Baylor is premised on two theories: negligence by the school and a violation of Title IX.
In 2012 and 2013, DeVos donated a total of $10,000 to the group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has filed its own lawsuit against OCR, alleging the lower standard of proof backed by the Obama administration is unfair to those accused of sexual assault. DeVos steadfastly refused to answer specific questions on the subject during her confirmation hearing.
DeVos’ answers were cold comfort to those who work with campus rape victims. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that only about 310 of every 1,000 rapes are actually reported to police, and about 80 percent of campus rapes go unreported. In contrast, the FBI found in 1997 that approximately eight percent of rape allegations are false. Assuming those statistics are correct, the problem of unreported campus rape dwarfs false allegations by a significant amount, yet DeVos has chosen to not to make donations to those groups fighting campus rape but to those trying to roll back the OCR’s more victim-friendly standards for Title IX compliance officers.
Jessica Luther, author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape, is wary of DeVos as an unknown quantity when it comes to Title IX.
“While we most often talk about (Title IX) enforcement in regards to universities and colleges, it also covers almost all grade schools, trade schools, cosmetology schools, a long list,” Luther says. “We need to remember that the OCR, in response to Title IX, also makes sure that transgender students are not discriminated against, that pregnant students have the same access to education as their peers and that there is gender equity in sport in school. I worry deeply about how DeVos will treat all of these things, what the OCR would be like under her and if she is truly equipped and knowledge enough to make good, compassionate decisions that will affect so many students across this country.”
The Baylor football scandal is a direct result of an environment in which victims have chosen not to come forward because the benefit of staying silent outweighed coming forward to suffer retaliation and pressure to recant. Taking steps to roll back standards set by OCR to make the Title IX reporting process more accessible to victims will only lead to more intimidated victims and more unreported rapes. Moreover, such a reverse in policy would send the message to schools that disciplining student sexual assault perpetrators is no longer a priority for the current administration.
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