It seems reasonable to expect that rape survivors sympathize with other victims, that the authorities who are supposed to protect students actually do and that if anyone understands the difference between a rape myth and a reality on college campuses, it’s the head of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
But Candice Jackson, acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, proves us wrong.
Last week, Jackson said in an interview with the New York Times that most campus sexual assault accusations are not about an aggressor overriding the will of a young man or woman.
“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,’” she said.
In other words, most campus sexual assault cases are unfounded.
By all accounts of empirical, peer-reviewed research, Jackson is dead wrong.
Her mythmaking continues a tradition of denial and trivialization of assault in our society.
Numerous sociologists like David Lisakto, a clinical psychologist, and André De Zutter, a psychologist at Free University in Amsterdam, have analyzed FBI data, police records and court hearings and found that only 2 to 10 percent of sexual assault allegations were unfounded, baseless or false.
In contrast, data compiled by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
IU’s 2014-2015 Sexual Climate survey found that 45 percent of undergraduate women at IU who reported being penetrated non-consensually did not consider the incident “serious enough” to be disclosed.
Jackson’s comments—which she later half-regretfully called ‘flippant’—demonstrate the depth of her ignorance of campus sexual assault, even as a survivor herself.
Her comment also falls neatly in the current administration’s vision of a more limited federal role in education and an erased Obama legacy.
For example, the DoE recently announced that it is debating not publishing the list of colleges and universities under investigation for sexual violence reports.
Jackson will scale back the requirements for federal investigators to search for systemic patterns of violations and the department’s budget proposal aims to cut staff positions at the Office of Civil Rights according to the New York Times.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also considered rolling back Obama and Biden’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which threatens to withdraw federal funds if universities do not lower the standard of proof in sexual assault disciplinary hearings.
Obama-era guidance on how universities handle sexual violence complaints does have genuine critics.
A number of Harvard professors signed an open letter in opposition to the reforms, which they worried would made campus title IX offices de facto judge, jury and executioner, according to the Boston Globe.
Most campus disciplinary hearings—which do not supersede the normal legal process—lack due process rights such as the right to cross-examine the witness, hire legal representation and be tried by a jury of one’s peers.
Some accused-oriented advocates, such as Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have argued that the “preponderance of evidence” standard violates due process rights and burden of proof conventions.
Critics of these plans have argued such requirements would discourage reporting and will confuse an internal disciplinary process with a court of law.
Any changes to the DoE’s involvement in campus disciplinary hearings will have to be meticulously reasoned, supported by data and be motivated by compassion and concern for victims.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s comments show she is not up for that task.