Law & the Courts

New Title IX Rules Allow Students Accused of Sexual Assault to Question Accusers

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delivers a major policy address on Title IX enforcement at George Mason University, in Arlington, Va., September 7, 2017. (Mike Theiler/Reuters )

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is expected to issue new Title IX guidelines in November mandating that college students accused of sexual assault be given the opportunity to question their accuser, among other reforms designed to bolster the due-process rights of the accused.

Under the revised Title IX guidelines, universities must afford accused students the right to question their accuser, though the questions can be communicated through a neutral third party and the two parties never have to face each other in the same room.

The rule changes, which will be subject to a public-comment period before taking effect, would also limit a university tribunal’s jurisdiction to sexual crimes that occur on campus, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. They differ slightly from a previous draft released in August, which gave only the accused the right to appeal a university’s decision. The new draft guarantees that right to both parties.

Title IX, a 1972 federal law prohibiting gender-based discrimination on campus, was originally invoked in narrow cases of blatant discrimination against women in university athletics and other areas of student life. But the statute was interpreted broadly under the Obama administration, which provided explicit guidance to university administrators to prioritize the right of the accuser not to be “re-traumatized” over the due-process protections owed to the accused party.

DeVos has heavily criticized the Obama administration’s interpretations of Title IX and the “kangaroo court” campus sexual-assault tribunals she says the guidelines gave rise to.

“Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved,” she said during a speech last year.

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