In much of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's speech about the “failed system” of campus sexual assault enforcement, she spoke about the rights of a community some feel gets the short end of the stick in this conversation: men.
DeVos spoke Thursday at George Mason University about her plans to replace the government's current sexual assault enforcement system with one that she believes will ensure fairness for the accused as well as the victims.
“There are men and women, boys and girls, who are survivors, and there are men and women, boys and girls who are wrongfully accused,” she added. “I’ve met them personally. I’ve heard their stories. And the rights of one person can never be paramount to the rights of another.
The secretary repeatedly emphasized how unacceptable the crime of sexual assault is.
“Let me be clear at the outset: Acts of sexual misconduct are reprehensible, disgusting and unacceptable. They are acts of cowardice and personal weakness, often thinly disguised as strength and power,” she said. “Such acts are atrocious, and I wish this subject didn’t need to be discussed at all.”
She also mentioned the challenges faced by those accused of assault.
“Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously,” she said. “Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”
In 2011, the Obama administration issued guidance requiring schools to investigate all complaints of sexual assault that details how they must conduct disciplinary proceedings. A key element of that policy was that schools use a standard known as “preponderance of the evidence” when weighing sexual misconduct cases.
Critics say the rules allow campus officials with little legal experience to act as judges. They also say the standard of evidence required is too low.
Colleges were told to make decisions based on whether it's “more likely than not” that an offense was committed. That's unlike the standard in criminal courts, where guilt has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Some activists interpreted DeVos's criticism of the Obama administration's policies as supporting the accused, who are overwhelmingly men. More than 98 percent of female rape victims and 93 percent of male rape victims were raped by men, according to One in Four, a national nonprofit organization focused on rape prevention.
#StopBetsy was trending on Twitter, with activists accusing the administration of being more interested in protecting men than women.
And outside of the Northern Virginia university where DeVos spoke, protesters shouted “Stop supporting rapists!” and “Shame on you! Not on us!”
Annie E. Clark, executive director of nonprofit End Rape on Campus, said the Trump administration is prioritizing the interests of accusers over victims and perpetuating the myth that men are often wrongly accused of rape.
“Her announcement yesterday sends a very clear leadership signal from this administration to survivors that they don't have their backs, that they are more focused on this tiny percentage of false accusations, which as you mentioned, do not happen often and yet they're treating this as a 50-50 issue,” she told CNN's Alisyn Camerota on Friday.
Earlier this summer, DeVos met with groups that represent the accused, including the representatives of the National Coalition for Men, and organizations that advocate for those accused of sexual assault, such as Stop Abusive and Violent Environments and Families Advocating for Campus Equality.
“DeVos is asking so-called 'men’s rights' groups who harass victims to advise her on the law,” Mahroh Jahangiri wrote on Vox after that meeting.
But attorney Andrew Miltenberg has represented dozens of male students accused of sexual assault and championed the change after witnessing what he says is the harm the higher-education system can inflict on wrongfully accused young men.
“On campuses throughout the country, I’ve seen firsthand how colleges and universities are wrongfully implementing their own kangaroo courts to adjudicate accusations of sexual misconduct and destroying the lives of wrongfully accused male students,” he told The Washington Post.
Gender was a significant indicator of support for Donald Trump during the election and since he became president. Men supported Trump over Hillary Clinton by 53 percent to 41 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. And the percentage of men who approve of Trump is nearly 20 points higher than the number of women who approve of him, according to an August Washington Post-ABC News poll.
As women have made gains in academia, industry and politics in the decades following the women's movement, some men looked to Trump to defend their rights, wrote Jill Filipovic, author of “The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.”
“Male identity remains tied up in dominance and earning potential, and when those things flag, it seems men either give up or get angry,” she wrote in the New York Times days before the 2016 election.
More than 63 million men reported voting in 2016 — the highest number since 1964, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics. And that number is trending upward.
Much has been made about some of the demographic groups that boarded the Trump train because of concerns about being left behind — conservative Christians, rural Americans, the working-class voters among them.
The latest group the administration is appealing to is the unfairly accused, and, in doing so, seems not to have forgotten the men who largely came through for them in November.