SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Students are going back to school just as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pushes for changes to the way colleges handle allegations of sexual assaults on campus.
“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said.
A 2011 directive from the Obama’s Justice Department lowered the standard of proof for sexual assault cases, and often denied the accused a right to cross-examine witnesses or hear evidence against them.
Opponents say they have created another class of victims: innocent students — mostly men — wrongly punished.
This comes down to a sensitive but important issue: making sure women who are assaulted get justice, but also making sure men who are accused aren’t automatically assumed to be guilty and are treated fairly.
“Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously,” DeVos said. “Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”
DeVos plans to toss out the directive and work with schools to create new guidelines.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is skeptical.
“Look, I think there’s always room for improvement, so I’m not saying that what we had before is perfect, but I am concerned that the tone and the conversation that I’m hearing around this opening, re-opening this up, is not necessarily intended to move this forward and improve the system,” Gascon said.
He says sexual assault cases handled on campuses are not the same as criminal prosecutions.
Gascon said, “The standard of proof is basically, is it more likely than not that this thing occurred. Right? That’s the standard for civil litigation. We don’t want to go back to the prior years where we had this misplaced thing that this all has to be handled as if it was a criminal case.”
Denise Caramagno, UCSF campus assault resources and education advocate, said, “I think it’s really disinformation to say that there aren’t protections for people who are accused. There are protections, people are very careful about due process.”
Caramango says the UC system is fair — that both sides are heard by a professional investigator, and that there’s a right to an appeal — and those appeals are handled by an outside law firm.
“My hope is that California will step up and put some protections in place” if they are removed at the federal level by Devos, Caramango said.