Thursday, November 23, 2017
Education

Trump official apologizes for saying most campus sexual assault accusations come after drunken sex, breakups

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On the eve of potentially pivotal meetings Thursday about campus sexual assault with advocates for both victims and the accused, the woman who organized the listening sessions is facing intense scrutiny for saying in an interview that most sexual assault accusations on college campuses come after drunken hookups and bad breakups.

Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, made the comments in a New York Times story published Wednesday that prompted backlash from critics who said the comments perpetuated harmful stereotypes of sexual assault victims.

Many investigations don't reveal "that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman," Jackson, whose office tracks Title IX violations, told the Times.

"Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of 'we were both drunk,' 'we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,'" Jackson said.

Title IX, part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, bars sexual discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

After backlash from victims' advocates, Jackson later issued an apology.

"What I said was flippant, and I am sorry," she said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "All sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously - which has always been my position and will always be the position of this department."

She said in the statement that she is a rape survivor and "would never seek to diminish anyone's experience."

"My words in the New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I've had with countless groups of advocates," Jackson continued.

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Earlier this week, Jackson's boss, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, also came under fire when reports said that she had invited to the listening sessions men's rights organizations that defend accused students, but that have also been characterized as misogynistic. Students who say they've been falsely accused of assault as well as sexual assault survivors have also been invited to the sessions.

DeVos and the Trump administration plan to reshape Obama-era directives about handling sexual assault investigations at college campuses nationwide.

Thursday meetings, which Jackson organized, could be the first step toward an anticipated rollback of controversial guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2011 that sought to aid victims of sexual violence and pressure universities into more doggedly investigating accusations.

RELATED COVERAGE: USF improv instructor abused power to coerce students into sex

That guidance came through a "Dear Colleague" letter from the Department of Education, which outlined an extensive procedural overhaul of the way Title IX is interpreted during campus judicial proceedings.

The letter mandated that education officials use a "preponderance of evidence" standard in place of the "clear and convincing" evidence standard. The new threshold made it easier for students accused of sexual violence to be found responsible during campus adjudications and was hailed as a monumental triumph for alleged victims, who are mostly women.

But while victims' advocates celebrated, the lawyers of those who were being accused of rape across the country — and some whose cases came before federal judges — began calling the Obama administration directives letter a gross violation of due process.

Even well-respected and politically neutral legal scholars from some of the nation's most revered institutions raised concerns that 2011 guidelines unfairly tilted the scale toward the victim and created an unjust and unconstitutional adjudication process.

All the while, discussions led by campus activists and documentaries about sexual assault, such as "The Hunting Ground," heightened awareness of the concept of a pervasive societal "rape culture" — and further spurred an equally voracious backlash from groups that advocate for the accused.

Now it seems the two women charged with moving that conversation forward are offering a sympathetic ear to the latter.

DeVos' family foundation has previously donated $25,000 to FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), a civil liberties group that often represents students accused of sexual assault and has argued that the 2011 guidelines jeopardize due process.

Jackson, a Pepperdine University trained lawyer, is best known as the author of the 2005 book "Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine," which tells the stories of women who accused former president Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. The Trump campaign used her connections to those women, including Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers, after a video surfaced of the candidate bragging about sexually assaulting women, as previously reported by the Washington Post.

Jackson has also spoken out against feminism and called the women who accused Trump of sexual violence "fake victims" who lied "for political gain."

"It's also an insult to real abuse victims," she wrote in a Facebook post reported by BuzzFeed News.

In her interview with the New York Times, Jackson said she has received hundreds of letters mostly from male college students who have been accused of rape or sexual assault and, as a result, lost scholarships, were expelled or tried to take their own lives.

When looking at the current adjudication process on campus, she sees "a red flag that's not quite right," she told the Times.

"We have a justice system where nobody demands that the system itself be weighted in favor of a plaintiff," she said in the interview. "In principle, there is no reason to depart from setting up a Title IX discipline process on campus that is anything other than fairly balanced and doesn't prejudge and weight the system in favor of a finding. We don't do that in our court system, our criminal justice system, and I see no reason why we would want to do it in a campus system either."

Jess Davidson, the managing director of the group End Rape on Campus, told Time magazine that Jackson's comments "put a pit in (her) stomach" because it came from the "person who is nationally in charge of investigating all of these cases."

Davidson echoed the sentiment of many victim advocates that Obama's 2011 guidance made campus tribunals more fair, not less.

"When you look at the amount of students who are going to be assaulted in college versus the amount of students who are going to be wrongfully accused, significantly more students fall into the first category," she told Time.

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