Advocates, Activists Fear Roll Back of Laws Used to Fight Campus Sexual Assault


Abortion Rights Also in Jeopardy

The first two weeks of Trump's presidency have already seen backwards movement on many civil rights, including the rights of women and the LGBT community. In less than seven days, much of the Obama administration's website was archived but not replaced, including sections on LGBT rights and climate change, and a global gag rule was put in place so that non-government organizations (NGO's) that receive funding from the U.S. government can no longer even mention abortion.

What many advocates fear is next will be a roll back on Title IX, a law that has been used to fight back against sexual assault on campuses.

During President Barack Obama's administration, many colleges were already dragging their feet when it came to addressing campus sexual assault and rape. The federal government had to step in and set up standards, such as demanding schools hire a Title IX coordinator and making sure there was an easy path to contact the university or college's Title IX office. Even with that guidance, schools have failed repeatedly to protect students.

Currently, there are 223 schools being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department's Office for Civil Rights for possibly violating Title IX in sexual assault cases.

The Center for Public Integrity published a study which revealed that "students found 'responsible' for alleged sexual assaults on campuses often face little or no punishment, while their victims' lives are frequently turned upside down. Many times, victims drop out of school, while students found culpable go on to graduate." 

With these types of problems already occurring, many feel that President Donald Trump's administration will only make things worse. According to the Washington Post, President Trump's appointee for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, has declined to promise that she will uphold Title IX's sexual assault guidance. This, combined with President Trump's now infamous recording in which he bragged about sexual assault, sets a discouraging standard according to The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM). 

5.jpg"Trump's election certainly gave credence to the fact that some accused perpetrators of sexual violence can be successful at the highest echelon," Michelle Issadore, NCHERM's Vice President for Operations and Public Information told me in an interview. "The backlash to his recorded comments and the alleged accusations against him demonstrates that a vocal number of Americans will not tolerate harassment, discrimination, and violence."

Advocacy groups like NCHERM argue that backlash and demonstrations are key to preserving Title IX and other civil rights.

"We saw the enormous impact student activism had on the Obama/Biden administration's work on campus sexual violence," Issadore said. "The Women's Marches echo that sentiment and there will continue to be visible opposition to Trump's agenda and initiatives. Politicians considering their own re-election campaigns will have to decide how this will shape their voting records."

Leigh Gaskin, an American Studies PhD candidate at Washington State University specializing in the political economy of rape, argues that there will have to be a change in all aspects of society if "we want to see sexual assault disappear."

"As more people start to demonstrate and it becomes the norm, then I think we'll see things start to change," Gaskin told me. "But you'll have to change the whole entire culture because it's more than just being an industry, it's a social construct. As a woman I have always expected that at some point in my life I would be raped, and men, typically, don't have that experience. So why is it a uniquely female experience?"

1.jpgGaskin worries that, in addition to Title IX roll backs, Trump's attack on women's rights will lead to the repeal of the Violence Against Women Act and possibly the restriction, if not outright dismissal, of abortion rights. To combat these changes, Gaskin hopes activists will recognize that rape culture is interlinked with other forms of oppression.

"We have to have an intersectional movement to end rape culture," Gaskin said. "You have to think about how all these things are all connected. It's not one issue or the other, [and in regards to how to] create a social justice revolution or how to resist your government, well part of being able to do that is making the connection that all things are together."

According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), trans, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming students have a 21 percent chance of being sexually assaulted as opposed to 18 percent for cisgender women. RAINN also points out that Native American women, compared to all other races, have twice as likely a chance of being raped. It is this intersectional understanding that Gaskin hopes will fuel the fight against Trump, but she warns other white and cisgender individuals not to try and control the movement.

"It shouldn't be us making a movement for them," she said. "It should be us supporting their movement because only they know what's best for them."

Gaskin wants to remind America's college and university students that, if they want to see real change happen on their campus, it won't come from the Trump administration or the administration at their school. It will have to come from them.

"[Students] need to demand that if they're going to pay $20,000 a year in tuition then part of that has to guarantee that they're on a rape-free campus," Gaskin said. "[Students] have the most power because they control the money. The administration is, generally speaking, going to do what the majority wants and ultimately this is your experience and you all have to decide that they're not willing to get an education at an institution that has any instance of sexual assault and rape."

Guest author Jackson Ferderer is a political activist and student at Washington State University. He is currently the Editor in Chief of LandEscapes, WSU's literary magazine, and Vice President of WSU's Men for Social Change.

Image by Emma Hall. Used with permission. 


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