The most education secretary Betsy DeVos has been able to offer sexual assault survivors’ rights advocates since her nomination is her belief that “assault is not OK,” while simultaneously being dismissive of Obama-era guidelines that supported survivors and gave them more resources and support through the reporting process.
Now, earlier this week, after finally responding to requests from sexual assault survivor advocacy groups spanning back months and months ago, Politico reported that DeVos will also be meeting with “men’s rights” groups that have been vocal critics of Title IX guidance on campus rape and assault. According to Think Progress, some of these groups even “have histories of intimidating rape survivors and dismissing domestic abuse against women.”
The department has reportedly reached out to the National Coalition for Men, SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, and Families Advocating for Campus Equality, according to Politico.
Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), one of the groups DeVos will be meeting with, is a non-profit founded a few years ago by the mothers of sons who were accused of sexual assault while they attended college. One of the testimonies on its website likens being accused of rape to rape itself, an awfully dangerous analogy that trivializes and makes light of sexual abuse.
In January this year, DeVos declined to commit to maintaining guidelines put in place by former President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, which required schools to have procedures to handle and investigate complaints. Additionally, these guidelines lowered the standard of evidence demanded from survivors, to accommodate those who were unable to report their experiences right away.
DeVos’ refusal to commit to federal guidelines praised by sexual assault advocates, and her decision to meet with groups that have routinely dismissed the national phenomenon of campus rape culture, are, unfortunately, just about what we should have expected from an administration serving under an accused, serial sexual abuser.
And in hearing out these “men’s rights” groups and giving them an audience with the education department, DeVos and her advisers and aides are giving rape and domestic abuse deniers the opportunity to further spread their lies and misinformation. These groups operate by further stigmatizing and sweepingly misrepresenting survivors as liars bent on persecuting men, when, of course, the reality is that an unsettling amount of sexual assault survivors are also men.
False reporting does happen (although, statistically speaking, very rarely), and it’s certainly something investigators should be wary of. But if anything, more thorough investigations would require investing more in Title IX programs — not less.
Researchers estimate that somewhere between 2 to 10 percent of rape accusations are false. But still, even among those who are falsely accused, it’s exceedingly rare for men to end up in prison as a result. But, of course, there is one thing “men’s rights” activists are right about: Campus sexual assault investigations are, indeed, often rooted in inequality.
But if anything, this inequality tends to favor male attackers, while female assault victims are dismissed or discredited based on their sexual histories, what they were wearing, or if they had been drinking, and male assault victims tend to be dismissed solely because male victimhood contradicts traditional narratives about masculinity.
To be clear, the groups DeVos is meeting with may rally under the banner of “men’s rights” activism, but what they’re really fighting for is the ostracism of male sexual assault survivors who have failed to meet their standards of hyper-masculinity. They’re fighting to shield male attackers from taking responsibility for their actions, and to continue to misrepresent women as liars and render justice for survivors impossible.
In meeting with them, DeVos is sending survivors and their advocates a very clear message that she is not their friend.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.