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Shaw: If Devos gets her way, more people will get away with sexual assault

Jim Shaw

What Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to do to school sexual misconduct rules is horrifying. What DeVos is proposing would allow accused students to cross-examine their accusers, would only allow colleges to be involved if the assault took place on campus, would make it harder to punish the accused and would narrow the definition of sexual harassment. Simply put, if DeVos gets her way, more people will get away with sexual assault.

Sexual assault against college students is sadly more common than we realize. The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead reports it served 133 college-aged victims in 2017. Moreover, CEO Christopher Johnson says an alarming 86 percent of sexually assaulted students don’t report it.

Johnson is troubled by the DeVos proposals.

“They roll back protections and create a climate where we completely disincentivize anyone from coming forward as a victim,” Johnson said. “We’re better than this. We need to take this stuff seriously.”

“The proposed changes are going to have chilling effects. Victims would be afraid to come forward,” said Dana Bisignani, Women’s Center Coordinator at Minnesota State University Moorhead and co-chair of the Sexual Violence Prevention Committee. “They won’t come forward because the cross examinations are brutal and humiliating.”

Karen (not her real name) is a student at MSUM, and a victim of an attempted sexual assault by her former boyfriend. He forced his way into her apartment, pushed Karen to the ground, felt her breasts and took off her clothes. She repeatedly told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. So Karen, naked from the waist down, started screaming and tried to break away. He pushed her back down and stuck his fingers in her mouth so no one would hear her.

“I thought I was going to die,” Karen said.

Even though a jury found the former boyfriend guilty of attempted gross sexual imposition-sexual act with force, Karen is forever traumatized by the attack.

“I am always nervous. I can never feel at ease. I don’t feel safe,” Karen said. “I’m always looking over my shoulder. I’m afraid to go to school or the grocery store.”

Karen is shocked at the DeVos proposals.

“It’s absolutely horrendous. It’s disturbing,” Karen said. “She has no idea what victims go through. It would be devastating. They have a responsibility to protect our students. It’s hard enough now to come forward. I fear for other victims if these rules are approved.”

Our government has a responsibility to protect sexual assault victims and go after the assaulters. Our students, because they are so young, are among the most vulnerable. With some high profile cases, such as Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar, we have made great progress recently, but DeVos would reverse that progress. This would make things easier for the perpetrators. How dare she cause further trauma to those who have suffered so much? She should listen hard to Christopher, Dana and Karen.

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