Too many women have said, “#MeToo.” Too many women carry the burden of sexual abuse. Too many institutions stand idly by.
Earlier this month, WNBA All-Star Layshia Clarendon claimed she was sexually assaulted by a longtime Cal employee, Mohamed Muqtar, adding her name to the growing list of brave survivors seeking justice and Cal Athletics’ name to the growing list of institutions that have systematically failed to protect female athletes.
While a societal shift in how men are being held accountable for inappropriate behavior is occurring across professional and personal boundaries, the legal shift is lacking.
After Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced potential changes to Title IX protections last September, legal absence will not only leave victims such as Clarendon without protection from perpetrators, but also foster a culture in which women, especially on college campuses, are vulnerable to predatory men.
One in five college women will be sexually assaulted. Only 20 percent of female college victims report assaults to law enforcement. Out of every 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators walk free.
Athletes — especially female student-athletes at the height of their career — are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The deregulations demonstrate a pervasive inability to understand power imbalances in sexual assault.
Muqtar could seriously hinder Clarendon’s basketball career. Larry Nassar could send his victims to the Olympics. These women were already on an unequal playing field: They were victims of the socially enforced importance of men of authority.
While DeVos and her proponents lament the treatment and vilification of the accused, they ironically assume that the victim is originally treated fairly.
In her civil suit, Clarendon claims negligence on the part of the university regents for failing to investigate allegations that Muqtar, the assistant athletic director for student services, had sexually assaulted and harassed athletes as early as 2007.
DeVos is not concerned by the alarming statistics regarding sexual assault or by how Clarendon’s experience echoes a harrowing trend of abusive men taking advantage of female athletes.
Her department has actively worked to roll back Obama-era regulations from a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that articulated institutions’ longstanding, and often overlooked, Title IX requirements. These requirements included safeguards for the accused and accuser and procedural implementations such as the use of preponderance of the evidence (the historical precedent for evidence standard in all civil suits).
DeVos’ guidelines give authority to institutions to create their own response to assault reports and fail to identify any due process safeguards for victims. The guidelines additionally state that prosecutors must provide “clear and convincing evidence,” placing more burden on the accuser. Schools can create appeal processes only for the accused and deny the accuser, and they are not held to a timely investigation.
Deregulations are the sexual assault version of “all lives matter.” Proponents for the deregulations argue that Title IX has protected victims at the detriment of the accused. They are not completely wrong; the accused deserve due process and safeguards for a fair trial. But proponents then deny the demonstrable evidence of problematic institutional legacies failing to adequately respond to sexual assault reports.
On top of this, victims face substantially greater psychological burden.
Known as “The Mayor” and a friend of student-athletes, Muqtar’s emotional and physical manipulation of players is not unlike that of Nassar, the disgraced Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics athletic trainer who was sentenced last week to 175 years in prison for molesting more than 140 girls.
Without federal enforcement of legal requirements in Title IX, men like Muqtar and Nassar will continue to abuse power and not be held accountable.
As demonstrated by the failed Title IX investigation of Nassar by MSU in 2014, in which the investigators were all tied to either Nassar or the university, the internal investigations that DeVos’ guidelines favor lack transparency. Sweeping discretion and power imbalance complicate investigations, disincentivizing institutions to adequately respond.
DeVos even met with MSU president Lou Anna Simon two days before announcing the Title IX changes. Last week, Simon resigned because of her handling of sexual assault reporting during her tenure. (Sound familiar, Nicholas Dirks?)
It’s important to be clear: the Obama-era regulations did not resolve the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. But if schools are still failing to live up to their legal obligations to victims or accusers, the Department of Education must strengthen enforcement of Title IX obligations, not relax them.
Demand for women’s safety used to be a bipartisan effort. Former President Richard Nixon’s Republican administration even instituted Title IX in 1972. But it comes as no surprise that the latest threat to women’s rights is from a an administration whose president who is a sexual assault perpetrator and used sports culture to justify his actions.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of burden to bear — not by women, but by the predatory men, the institutions and the administration of President Donald Trump. Deregulation of Title IX does not make athletes or students safer, but rather piles the burden on complicit institutions.