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Photos by Gage Skidmore | CC BY-SA 2.0

What will it take for the United States to understand that sexual assault is an epidemic? How many silence breakers do we need for the government to listen?

As a female journalist, I feel it is my duty to comment on one of the most pressing issues facing our nation, particularly when the legislation surrounding sexual assault is failing women. 

American Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is changing sexual misconduct guidelines by expanding the rights of the accused, allowing for cross-examination during mediation, as well as reversing policies enforced by the Obama administration that hold universities accountable for sexual assault.   

Penn's policies have been called unfairly tough on students accused of assault. In 2017, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, published an assessment of “due process” on U.S. News and World Report’s top 53 universities in the country. Penn received a failing score of 3/20 for its sexual misconduct policy, as it does not allow the accused the following rights: presumption of innocence, written notice, time to prepare, access to all evidence, cross-examination, right to counsel, right to appeal, and unanimity for expulsion. 

According to the FBI, around 2 percent of rape and sexual assault charges are false. So, in a world that constantly blames the victim, why is DeVos lending more rights to the accused?

At Penn, rape culture is persisting. A 2015 report from the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct found that 12 percent of female undergraduates experienced non-consensual penetration and 20.8 percent were victims of unwanted touching. 

Gage Skidmore | CC BY-SA 2.0

Reporting an instance of sexual misconduct can be extremely difficult for the victim. In addition to coping with the trauma that follows, they must relive what has happened to them in order to seek justice: telling the story to officials, attending hearings, and consulting with University officials. They also have to attend to their academic responsibilities. 

Many of the rights that DeVos wants to give the accused, could end up hurting the victim. Take cross-examination, for example. As noted by the Obama Administration in the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, “Allowing an alleged perpetrator to question an alleged victim directly may be traumatic or intimidating, thereby possibly escalating or perpetuating a hostile environment.” 

Furthermore, despite FIRE’s criticism of Penn’s policy, many campus leaders deemed it effective. Former President of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault and 2018 College graduate Zeeshan Mallick noted that the existing policy fosters “a safe campus” and relieves them of the anxiety that would come with "having to be in the same room as the person they are accusing or having to jump through hoops in order to go to a courtroom." 

Given the low rate of false sexual misconduct charges, as well as the toll reporting an alleged perpetrator may take on the victim, DeVos’ proposed policy is deeply concerning. The aftermath of the #MeToo movement should not be centered around the rights of the accused, but rather the empowerment of victims. 

I’m not an assault survivor; my objective isn’t to speak on behalf of them. But I fear for my rights as a woman on a college campus. 

ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College sophomore from New York studying English. Her email address is simonetti@thedp.com.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.