A new rule addressing sexual violence and harassment on college campuses may give accused students legal grounds to get their cases dismissed and limit a victim’s ability to seek help from school officials or campus police.
Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses
Under a new proposed rule, schools may be required to address incidents of sexual misconduct only if the incidents occur on campus or within school programs and activities. Even if a student is enrolled in the school, incidents of sexual misconduct may be ignored by school officials when they happen off-campus. Incidents that occur on campus may be dismissed and unreported, leaving students with limited recourse for help.
The revision of President Obama’s rules by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos changes the intended scope of federal laws barring sex discrimination in education. Current federal guidelines urge colleges and universities to take action against any sexual misconduct that disrupts a student’s education, whether it takes place on-campus or off-campus. The proposed rule under DeVos will require schools to address incidents of sexual misconduct only when they occur within school programs or activities, excluding incidents that occur off-campus.
Due to confusing language, some school officials claim the new proposal allows schools to handle sexual misconduct cases off-campus at their own discretion, while others claim schools are barred from handling off-campus cases. Colleges have raised concerns that the new proposal will cut off the school’s authority at campus boundaries. The President of the University of Wyoming, Laurie Nichols, says that limiting a school’s powers off-campus will push sexual violence to off-campus areas where offenders are beyond a school’s reach for punishment. Nichols also emphasizes that refusal to take action off-campus will suggest indifference on the part of the institution and minimize the impact of sexual assault or misconduct on the student.
According to recent studies, acts of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and date rape are rising on college campuses around the country. At the University of Minnesota, one in four female undergraduate students say they have been sexually assaulted. In 2017, sexual assault cases at U of M rose significantly, but less than half were investigated by school officials. Most colleges admit that it’s difficult to track off-campus sexual assaults because many are never reported to Minnesota police or assault attorneys, but estimates are as high as 60%. Campus resources make it easier for students victimized by sexual assault to seek help, whether they live in student dorms or off-campus housing.