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These Groups Met With Betsy DeVos on Changing Campus Rape Guidelines. Now They’re Backing Brett Kavanaugh.

Katelyn Burns

“From the very beginning of this administration, Trump and his allies have made clear that they are more concerned with protecting men and accused assailants than the survivors whose rights they are entrusted to protect."

Organizations that lobbied Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to scuttle federal guidelines for how colleges should handle sexual assault cases are now backing Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court as women accuse the judge of sexual misconduct.

The Obama administration’s Department of Education in 2011 issued a dear colleague letter with guidelines for how colleges and universities can implement a process for handling allegations of sexual violence that offers more protections for survivors. The guidelines were applauded by advocates for sexual assault survivors. 

DeVos has since rescinded the Obama-era guidelines and introduced her own version of the rule after meeting with organizations like the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), which, according to its website, is the “oldest men’s group committed to ending sex discrimination,” and advocates for men accused of sexual assault.

DeVos “is now advocating for processes that inhibit safe testimony, like mediation and direct cross examination; a one-sided right to appeal (for the accused only); and a standard of evidence that not only fails to comport with that used in comparable civil processes but also that, by definition, prioritizes the accused student’s right to educational access over that of the complainant,” Sarah Nesbitt, policy and advocacy organizer at Know Your IX, which advocates for better protections for survivors of campus sexual violence, told Rewire.News

Those same groups have been supportive of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, finding outrage in a process they claim has ruined Kavanaugh’s reputation. “The Kavanaugh ‘hearing’ was reminiscent of the high tech lynching that befell other patently decent male candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court, namely Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork,” wrote Richard Doyle, president of the Men’s Defense Association (MDA), in a blog post. The Google description for MDA’s website reads “Richard Doyle takes on the feminist jihad against men.”

Doyle perhaps unintentionally conjured images of Kavanaugh raging at senators during last week’s testimony. “A wise old lawyer said, ‘If you have the facts, argue the facts; if you have the law, argue the law; if you don’t have the facts or the law, bang on the table and shout,’” he wrote, contending that Ford and Democrats shouted instead of relying on facts.

Doyle is an adviser for the NCFM, one of the groups that met with DeVos about the new Title IX rule. Doyle’s blog post about the Kavanaugh hearings is hosted on NCFM’s official website.

Other groups, including Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), that pushed for the new Title IX rule have also shown support for Kavanaugh’s nomination. The Southern Poverty Law Center described SAVE as a group that has been “lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors, while working to return the focus to the ‘true victims of abuse’—the falsely accused.” 

“While, as an initial response, we support believing those who come forward as victims, we also have seen lives ruined, severe emotional trauma, suicidal ideation, and even a few suicides, all as the result of allegations unsupported by evidence, and responsibility decisions based on ‘believe the victim’ ideology which relies on unscientific victim trauma myths to discount relevant and probative evidence,” Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), an organization supporting the rights of those accused of sexual violence, said in a statement to Rewire.News. FACE met with DeVos about changes to Title IX guidelines.

Only 8 percent of forcible rape allegations are false, according to 1996 data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, while the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that six out of 1,000 rapes result in jail time for the convicted.

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For Nesbitt, the constant harping from men’s rights advocates about false allegations rings hollow. “[T]he contention that believing survivors is antithetical to allowing for a fair process is misleading,” she said. “Victims who voice to the public complaints of robbery or other harmful acts are typically believed from the start, and no one argues that starting by believing them is unfair. The idea that we should automatically be skeptical of marginalized populations who bravely articulate their victimization—an idea that the Trump administration continues to advance—sets a dangerous standard.”

Polling numbers for support of Kavanaugh’s nomination have cratered since accusations of sexual misconduct have come to light, prompting survivors to speak out, sometimes directly to lawmakers.

President Trump in a Tuesday night rally in Mississippi mocked Ford’s testimony, falsely claiming that she couldn’t remember key details about the alleged assault. The president’s derision of Ford was followed by chants of “lock her up.” 

“From the very beginning of this administration, Trump and his allies have made clear that they are more concerned with protecting men and accused assailants than the survivors whose rights they are entrusted to protect. The Department of Education only met with survivors once as they reconsidered the Title IX policy and centered the voices of men’s rights groups and welcomed them with open arms,” said Jess Davidson,  interim executive director of End Rape on Campus. “Unfortunately, Trump’s remarks last night only confirm what we learned back in 2016 when the Access Hollywood tape leaked about how the president and Republicans will handle sexual assault accusations—they won’t take them seriously, doing everything they can to silence survivors who speak out.”

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