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Federal Rules Grant More Protection to Students Accused of Sexual Assault

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  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Announced Changes to Title IX that effectively give more power to those accused of sexual misconduct. 
  • Schools can now choose between two evidentiary standards when handling misconduct: the preponderance of evidence or the clear and convincing evidence standard, the latter of which makes it harder for students to be convicted of wrongdoing.
  • Schools are also not required to investigate off-campus incidents if it takes place at a location or event that is not affiliated with the school.
  • The revisions also mandate schools to allow students to go through a live hearing where both parties undergo a cross-examination led by the other student’s lawyer or representative.
  • DeVos believes that these changes make due process fairer, however many fear that this will harm survivors and potentially stop them from reporting.

General Changes to Title IX

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced new changes to Title IX regulations that give more protections to those accused of sexual misconduct. 

In a hefty 2,033 page document, DeVos unveiled a sweeping list of final regulations directing schools and colleges on how to handle sexual misconduct on their campuses. Many of these new regulations rescind rules made during the Obama administration.

Among the changes include a tighter definition of sexual harassment, which will now be considered conduct that is ‘“so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims equal access to education.” The previous definition included broader forms of misconduct that only had to interfere with or limit access to education, not deny it. The new term made additions to include sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. which were not listed in the old one.

The new regulations also limit what kind of off-campus incidents schools are obligated to look into. If an assault takes place off-campus, a school is now only obligated to look into it if it took place at a school sanctioned event, or if it happened in an “off-campus building owned or controlled by” the school or a student organization. Things like school field trips and conferences, and events at fraternity and sorority houses are under the school’s domain. If an incident takes place at a student’s private off-campus apartment, however, the school is not required to investigate. 

Changes to Reporting and Investigation Standards

Some of the most controversial revisions change the way reported incidents will be investigated by schools. Schools can now choose which evidentiary standard to use when handling cases: the preponderance of evidence or the clear and convincing evidence standard. Currently, the preponderance of evidence standard is commonly used on campuses. The latter option makes it much harder for the accused to be found guilty of wrongdoing. 

The changes also mandate that schools allow live hearings where the accused and accuser undergo a cross-examination. The questioning will be led by the other student’s lawyer or representative so that the two do not have to meet face-to-face. Still, many fear that this process would be traumatizing for survivors of sexual assault.

Schools also are only required to investigate cases if they are reported via a formal complaint to a campus official with the authority to handle it. If the incident is just shared with an R.A. or another campus figure, an investigation is not mandatory. 

“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in a statement. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, Assistant Secretary of Education in the Office for Civil Rights also made remarks in support of the Department’s changes to Title IX. 

“The new Title IX regulation is a game-changer,” Marcus wrote. “It establishes that schools and colleges must take sexual harassment seriously, while also ensuring a fair process for everyone involved.”

“There is no reason why educators cannot protect all of their students – and under this regulation there will be no excuses for failing to do so,” he added. 

Responses and Backlash

The changes were met with an expected amount of criticism. When DeVos first announced her plans in 2018, the Department of Education received 120,000 comments on the matter, which is the most the department has ever received for a proposal. 

Several organizations fear that these rules will hurt survivors and ultimately stop them from reporting sexual misconduct. Know Your IX said that the rules are “dangerous and could push survivors out of school entirely.”

Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center also released a statement with a similar sentiment. 

 “If this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault,” Goss Graves wrote. “We refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug.”

The National Women’s Law Center says they will be taking DeVos and her department to court over the issue. 

Another contentious aspect of DeVos’ announcement is its timing. Schools around the country are already dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Attorneys General from over a dozen states signed a letter back in March asking DeVos to hold off on announcing these plans, as schools at every level have a full plate right now. 

“This unprecedented pandemic—and the necessary steps our country is taking to mitigate and minimize its harms—has placed a significant strain on our schools and our students,” the letter said. “With school resources already stretched thin, now is not the time to require school administrators, faculty, and staff to review new, complex Title IX regulations.”

The rules have yet to take effect. They are currently scheduled to be implemented on August 14, just before the beginning of the traditional school year, a timeline that is likely to be further impacted by the coronavirus. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NPR) (The Guardian)

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Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem

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Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.


Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg

In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism. 

Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”

According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.

Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice

“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.

According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject. 

Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out. 

Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)

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Biden Administration Orders ICE To Halt Workplace Raids

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The Department of Homeland Security will now focus on targeting employers who exploit undocumented workers, instead of carrying out raids that dissuade those workers from reporting labor violations.


DHS Reverses Worksite Raid Policy

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop workplace raids.

The move marks a reversal from Trump administration policies that have been strongly criticized by immigration activists who argue the efforts created fear in immigrant communities and dissuaded them from reporting labor violations or exploitative employment practices.

In addition to stopping the raids, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that the administration will refocus enforcement efforts to instead target “employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities or impose unsafe working conditions.” 

Mayorkas added that the immigration agencies housed in DHS will have the next 60 days to identify harmful existing policies and come up with new ones that provide better deportation protections for workers who report their employers.

In the Tuesday memo, the secretary argued that shift of focus will “reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers” and “increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigation.”

Labor Market Implications

The new policy comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing a critical labor shortage, including in many sectors that rely on immigrant labor.

Some companies that use undocumented workers pay them wages that are far below the market rate, which is not only exploitative but also undercuts competitors.

According to Mayorkas, the pivot to employer-based enforcement will help protect American businesses.

“By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market,” he said in the memo. “They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”

It is currently unclear how effective the new efforts will be, but historical precedent does not paint an optimistic picture.

The Biden administration’s efforts closely mirror a similar move by the Obama administration, which attempted to reverse workplace raids authorized under President George W. Bush by targetting those who employ undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves.

That effort, however, still led to thousands of undocumented workers being fired.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (ABC News)

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Mom Charged for Hosting Secret Teen Parties, Pressuring Kids To Drink and Engage in Sex Acts

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Investigators said some of the sex acts between teens were non-consensual and at times took place while the mother stood by laughing.


Mother Hit With Dozens of Charges

A California mother is facing 39 criminal charges after hosting a series of illegal parties for her teenage son and his mostly 14- and 15-year-old friends that regularly led to dangerous accidents and sexual assaults.

The mother, 47-year-old Shannon O’Connor, also known as Shannon Bruga, is currently awaiting extradition to Santa Clara County. According to The Mercury News, she was arrested Saturday in Ada County, Idaho, where she has a home in addition to her property in Los Gatos that is currently on the market.

Her criminal charges include 12 felony counts and 10 misdemeanor counts of child endangerment, one count of misdemeanor sexual battery, three counts of misdemeanor child molestation, and 13 misdemeanor counts of providing alcohol to minors.

“It took a lot of brave children to come forward and to untangle this deeply disturbing case,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a press release regarding the case. “As a parent, I’m shocked. As the DA, I’m determined to hold those adults who endanger children fully accountable to the law and our community.”

What Happened During the Parties?

Investigators claim O’Connor organized the functions, attended by as many as 20 teens, via text message and Snapchat. She would then allegedly supply the teens with alcohol and push them to binge drink, often to the point of illness or unconsciousness.

The harm that resulted from their intoxication included one teen breaking a finger and another almost drowning in a hot tub, among other serious situations.

In another instance, O’Connor let an unlicensed drunk teen drive her car. Her son and another one of his friends then hung off the back while it was moving, which caused the friend to fall, hit his head, and become unconscious for 30 seconds. He was later diagnosed with a concussion after spending the night vomiting.

O’Connor is additionally accused of manipulating and encouraging drunk teens to participate in sex acts with one another, which were sometimes non-consensual or carried out while she watched. In some cases, she allegedly laughed while the sexual acts happened or when assault victims asked her why she didn’t step in to help.

Investigators added that O’Connor required teens who attended her parties to keep them a secret. She’s even accused of helping them sneak out of their homes so she could drive them to her events. Authorities said she was found to have bullied at least one teen who she suspected of breaking the secret.

“Everyone should feel relieved this woman’s not on the street,” the parents of one assault victim told The Mercury News. “She was grooming these kids, setting them up for sexual acts, and she’s a mother and doing this to her own child. … I’ve been racking my brain trying to think what was in it for her.

See what others are saying: (The Mercury News) (ABC 7) (CBS San Francisco)

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