It’s impossible to listen to the dozens of painful testimonies from young women regarding their abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar and not feel physically sick. I know I’m not alone.
Many of the victims who have recently shared their stories in court were children at the time Nassar molested them. He continued to harm these athletes for decades while Michigan State University, his employer, ignored warning signs and reports from these women and allowed him to continue his disgusting behavior.
Now the university is paying the price. Its president and athletic director have resigned, among others. More will come. And the several hundred lawsuits filed by Nassar’s victims in federal court will likely exceed $1 billion.
Given the intense focus on these assaults that took place on MSU’s watch, expect a renewed push to halt Title IX reforms that are underway at the U.S. Department of Education. That shouldn’t happen.
In September, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolled back Obama-era guidelines that had pressured universities to investigate and adjudicate claims of campus sexual assault quickly and in a way that clearly favored the accuser. The Obama administration demanded schools use a lower bar to determine guilt, which has harmed the due process rights of the accused (usually male students).
The tool used to justify this change back in 2011 was Title IX, the law which fights sex discrimination in schools that take federal funds. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights enforces Title IX provisions.
Under DeVos and the Trump administration, things are changing. The department is still crafting a new framework, and will take public comment once it’s ready (something the former administration didn’t do). DeVos’ critics want you to think she’s an apologist for rapists. The reality is she wants to help ensure a fair process that hears from both the accused and accuser.
There are so many examples of why reform is needed. As Robby Soave reports for Reason, there are now 77 “campus-due-process-related decisions that are favorable to a student accused of sexual misconduct.” Such students are forced to sue their universities for unfair treatment, including expulsion. And they’re winning.
Yet the pushback to the sensible reform continues to build, in part fueled by the #MeToo movement. Late last month, some civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against DeVos and the department, claiming there will now be a chilling effect on survivors. That’s a pre-emptive move, however, considering the new rule hasn’t even been proposed yet.
And DeVos is cracking down on MSU. She’s made it clear her agency will investigate the Nassar scandal and hold the university accountable for its shocking handling of the case. DeVos said what took place at MSU “cannot happen ever again.” Whenever a staff or faculty member is involved, serious red flags should go up.
The department is already investigating MSU for other Title IX complaints, as well as for lack of compliance in releasing campus crime reports under the Clery Act.
The Detroit News reported about how an MSU Title IX investigator purposefully misled a young woman who filed a complaint against Nassar. The 2014 report offered to the victim cleared Nassar’s behavior and withheld important details that were included in the report to the university, warning of Nassar’s liability to MSU. That’s damning.
But these specific abuses at MSU shouldn’t be conflated with the other reforms necessary to return due process to campus sexual assault investigations.