Lawrence, like most college campuses, is unfortunately no stranger to sexual assault. By 2016, the number of sexual offenses reported at Lawrence went up by 5 times the number it was in 2014—from 7 to 35. Although it is important to note that this huge increase is more likely due to a rise in reports than sexual assaults occurring on campus, the statistics are nevertheless disheartening.
Considering the pervasiveness of sexual assault on campuses and how difficult everything already is for survivors, United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ shift toward a “clear and convincing” standard of evidence in cases of sexual assault is definitely cause for concern. If there were to be a shift in the standard of evidence at the federal level, Lawrence would have to comply despite being a private school because of funds received from the government. In addition, sexual assault cases would become even more difficult for survivors.
At present, Lawrence follows a standard of preponderance, meaning that sanctions are valid if the evidence, more likely than not, points to assault. This standard is more effective than the “clear and convincing” standard in keeping survivors and our community safe. In a talk given by Lawrence’s Title IX Coordinator Kim Jones on Tuesday, Jones mentioned the Trump administration’s possible lean towards stricter guidelines for evidence in cases of sexual assault. She added that such talk is mere speculation as nothing is set in stone—yet.
Thankfully, we here at Lawrence are lucky to have resources like SAASHA, SHARE, Title IX Coordinator Kim Jones and Cathy Kaye, Lawrence’s victim advocate through the Sexual Assault and Crisis Center (SACC) available for support. Although the changes in standard are mostly hypothetical at the moment, in the event that stricter federal guidelines are implemented in the future, Lawrence would have to follow them and it is important to consider the impact that such a change could have on our community.