The U.S. Dept. of Education’s
Office for Civil Rights recently
implemented a series of new federal
regulations decreasing the amount
of evidence necessary to substantiate
claims of sexual harassment and
violence at federally funded universities.
The legislation requires colleges
to instate a “preponderance of the
evidence” guideline, lowering the
evidentiary burden required to indicate
that a sexually based crime is
more likely than not to have taken
place. The revised standards replace
the “clear and convincing” precedent
requiring that proof provide verification
“beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Will Creeley, director of Legal
and Public Advocacy for the
Foundation for Individual Rights
in Education, said the organization
feels the measure heightens the risk
of condemning innocent individuals
for serious crimes such as sexual
harassment and assault.
“We [at FIRE] think that
when someone is accused of doing
something terrible, they should be
innocent until proven guilty and provided with proper hearings that provide
clear and convincing evidence,” Creeley
said. “That medium standard is consistent
with the American perception of justice;
however, the new OCR requirement that a
student only needs to show preponderance
of evidence is too low of a standard for
these types of crimes.”
However, Rape Prevention Education
Program intern Alyssa Avila, a fourthyear
feminist studies major, said sexual
crime victims can face difficulties providing
validation of their claims under the
previous system.
“It’s hard to acquire evidence in general
because the acts often occur in places that
the victim thought was safe,” Avila said.
“They obviously weren’t expecting it, so
the evidence is usually hard to prove.”
The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation
and analysis of sexual assault
crime rates on U.S. college campuses
spurred the department’s mandate early
last month.
The OCR is responsible for enforcing
the legal code and can conduct investigations
and cut federal funding for schools
failing to comply with civil rights laws.
Creeley said the new standards limit the
campus administration’s ability to selfgovern
and imposes consequences on universities
that fail to comply.
“Before, schools themselves could
decide the call for evidence as specific to
their campus needs, but because of the
regulations, the ability for an institution
to decide its own legal standards has been
removed completely,” Creeley said. “All
violators of these federal rules risk the
loss of federal funding and are subject to
investigation by the FBI.”
According to Creeley, several notable
universities including Yale, Harvard and
Princeton are already under investigation
for not following the federal requirements.
Despite concerns about the legislation’s
impact on the university’s administration,
UCSB Women’s Center Advocacy
Support specialist Kegan Allee said the
new legal code is a positive step in bringing
justice to victims.
“I absolutely support the new regulations
because in these cases, a higher
standard of evidence beyond a reasonable
doubt is often too hard to prove,” Allee
said. “Without these changes, they would
be creating an environment that makes it
much harder for victims to come forward.
It’s an unfair standard.”