Victims of rape, advocates worry about new guidelines for college campuses

Salt Lake City — (KUTV) Jasmine Despain, 24, who was raped while she was in college, is deeply worried about what the new guidelines for campus rape investigations will mean for victims.

“I think it’s devastating for students,” she said.

The guidelines, imposed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, replace guidelines put in place during the Obama administration.

The Obama guidelines pushed colleges and universities to focus on the well-being of the victim in conducting Title IX investigations.

Victim advocates say the new guidelines put the burden of proof back on victims and give perpetrators the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s an abandoning of moral leadership,” said Turner Bitton.

Bitton, Executive Director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) said Title IX investigations are not to be treated like criminal cases, they are civil rights investigations to determine if assault interfered with a student’s right to an education.

Bitton said DeVos suggested too many students are falsely accused of rape investigations are often unfair to them.

Link to DeVos tweet

“Evidence shows so-called false reports are very low – almost non-existent,” he said.

Bitton worries that advances made in protecting victim rights on college campuses will one day be abandoned if DeVos turns the guidelines into mandates – which he expects will happen someday.

He expects Utah colleges and universities to continue to make improvements in their treatment of victims despite the guidelines but he feels DeVos’ actions will have a chilling effect on victims who might think twice about reporting.

Despain said when she was raped at Utah State University, she did not receive support from the school. She was left to get through her pain and the criminal trial of her perpetrator on her own.

Her grades suffered and she lost money moving from campus housing to an off-campus apartment.

She fears the new guidelines will discourage schools from doing more to help victims.

Link to "What Rape Culture means" tweet

“How can we know they are going to honor victims and be there for people like me?” she said.

At the University of Utah, Darrah Jones, Sexual Assault Support Advocate, said as long as the university is not told to make changes, they will continue helping victims who need emotional support or help understanding their options as far as reporting to police or campus administrators.

“We are going to continue to provide as much holistic support as possible to make sure survivors have access to healing,” Jones said.

The University of Utah issued this statement regarding the new guidelines:

We do not anticipate that today's announcement by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights regarding sexual violence on college campuses will significantly impact the existing policies at the University of Utah. Our policies aim to both protect victims and provide due process to those involved. However, we will review the guidelines and evaluate whether any aspects of our policies could benefit from changes in the coming year, in consultation with our faculty, staff and students. The safety and well-being of our students remains our top priority. We will continue to provide victim advocate and counseling services, protective measures, bystander intervention trainings and other awareness programs.

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