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Betsy DeVos Just Perpetuated Years Of Right-Wing Attacks On Rape Survivors

Education Politics Top News White House

Betsy DeVos Just Perpetuated Years Of Right-Wing Attacks On Rape Survivors


Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men — all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and “lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men’s violence against them” and believe that “victims’ sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority — representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specificallegations against him.

Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point — which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year — when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration — embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this — although seemingly benign — not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men’s rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.


Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters



  1. Daniel Jones July 14, 2017

    SAVE FACE indeed.

  2. FireBaron July 14, 2017

    What did anyone really expect from her? Given the Christian denomination she belongs to, I am surprised her husband allowed her to accept a Cabinet seat. They teachings say a woman should stay at home and meekly obey whatever her father, brothers, husband or sons say to her. So is it surprising she is supporting a group of Special Snowflakes who believe they have every right to sexually harass (up to an including rape) any woman they want to?

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 14, 2017

    Is Betsy a salacious man who underwent cosmetic surgery and a voice change in order to to appear as a woman? Does the Conservative ideology, coupled with a distorted understanding and implementation of Religion responsible for “her” deranged mentality?

    For Betsy, this latest outrage against women by siding with rapists strongly indicates the degenerative effects that partisan politics in America has on every aspect of the human soul of anyone who succumbs to its destructive allure. Betsy and her political/quasi-religious peers have been so twisted and distorted by the corrosive influences of partisan politics that her own mother wouldn’t recognize her. And the depravity brought on by a gross malpractice of Religion makes for a dangerous member of society, capable of far-reaching damage.

  4. Lynda Groom July 14, 2017

    It seems clear that DeVos and women who think and speak like her are keeping something from their college days in a dark room. Why so many fear the sexuality of women as an evil to be controlled is beyond me. Also I find the ‘boys will be boys’ defense of rapist deplorable.

  5. daboys1215 July 14, 2017

    Excellent news. Feminists will keep whining and lying. Finally, some real equality.

    1. ^ imagine being this angry incel dude. what a waste of a life.

      1. daboys1215 July 16, 2017

        ^ Imagine being this loser who doesn’t understand English.

        1. OK dude sorry you hate women.

          1. daboys1215 July 21, 2017

            Women is not equal to feminists. Repeat that to yourself until you can grasp the concept.

          2. OK sorry you hate women.

        2. dpaano July 17, 2017

          Imagine being this loser who keeps changing his name from week to week….he’s still the big tomato that he’s always been!

          1. daboys1215 July 21, 2017

            Changing my name? Wrong dude sweetheart.

  6. Beethoven July 15, 2017

    What if the media reported on other crimes in the same way they frequently report on rape accusations?

    “Joe Blow is accused of armed robbery of an Arby’s fast food restaurant. He vehemently denies the accusation, and argues that the restaurant invited him in despite the fact he was brandishing a gun, and they willingly opened the cash drawer for him. His father insists that Joe is a good kid who would never do such a thing as armed robbery, but was simply acting on an opportunity to take money that was freely handed to him. He was planning to attend a big-name university on a football scholarship, and had excellent prospects of a professional football career. Now, because of this accusation, his dreams may be dashed.

    “There appears to be a pattern in this, in that many fast food restaurants claim to have been victims of armed robberies, but some of those claims have, on investigation, turned out to be false, and a cover-up for employees embezzling. And many other times the police have been unable to identify an alleged robber. In fact, this is not the first time this particular Arby’s has claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint.

    “Some people are calling for an investigation of the Arby’s restaurant, saying that it is losing money and is trying to cover up bad management by making accusations like this one.”

  7. PrecipitousDrop July 16, 2017

    Of course Betsy DeVos supports rapists. She is a devout Christian who faithfully and piously accepts that all girls and women since Eve — with the singular exception of the miraculous mother of her lord — are blighted, conniving seductresses. Mike Pence holds the same convictions, which is why he will not accept a one-on-one meeting with a woman, and Mrs. Pence must accompany him whenever he attends a mixed event where alcohol is served.

    1. dpaano July 17, 2017

      Apparently, Ms DeVos has not gone through a similar experience herself or she might feel differently. I wonder how she’d feel if it were a daughter or hers (not sure if she’s got kids or not). I bet it would be a whole different story!

  8. johninPCFL July 19, 2017

    Seems like the perfect place for the NRA to inject some sanity, right? Like maybe the women wouldn’t be raped if they simply carried guns and shot their attackers.

    /sarc off


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