Title IX Bills Deferred in Missouri

Painting+Courtesy+of+Ashlee+Kothenbeutel.
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Title IX Bills Deferred in Missouri

Painting Courtesy of Ashlee Kothenbeutel.

Painting Courtesy of Ashlee Kothenbeutel.

Painting Courtesy of Ashlee Kothenbeutel.

Painting Courtesy of Ashlee Kothenbeutel.

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In November 2018, Education Secretary Betsy Devos proposed sweeping changes to federal regulations under Title IX. The changes, which are meant to reduce expenditures and streamline the process, have come under fire as destructive and entirely counterproductive.

 

Critics of Devos’ proposed changes have taken issue with key stipulations that seem to complicate and aggravate a process that is already traumatic for survivors of sexual assault.

 

For example, Secretary Devos proposes that campus Title IX offices guarantee the right of the accused to cross examine the accuser and vice versa. The cross examination would be conducted by personally appointed advisors. This transition toward courtroom-style Title IX proceedings is incredibly troubling.

 

First, the introduction of personally appointed advisors that conduct cross examinations produces grave concerns about inequality. If one student can afford to pay an experienced lawyer to conduct the cross examination while the other cannot, the wealthier student has a massive advantage—regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused.

The proposed changes allow either party to appeal the university’s decision, which, according to Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, would further create a “socio-economic imbalance,” if one student has the resources to influence the appeal process favorably while the other does not.

Moreover, it is impossible to overstate the detrimental effect a live cross examination might have on survivors reporting sexual assault. After the trauma of an experience with sexual assault, most survivors have no desire to be in the same room with their attacker, let alone cross examined in their presence.

 

The Title IX process is already challenging for survivors; the proposed changes would make it positively hellish and would drastically reduce the number of survivors who feel comfortable coming forward.  

These proposed Title IX reforms have special relevance for college students in Missouri, as the Missouri recently introduced two bills, HB 573 and SB 259, which closely mirror Devos’ reforms.  However, the Missouri TItle IX proposals are actually more destructive to the Title IX process than Devos’ federal reforms.

 

Administrators,Title IX coordinators, and concerned citizens from across Missouri have almost unanimously condemned the two overly accommodating to the accused. If passed, Missouri Title IX proceedings would provide more protection for the accused than any other state.

 

The House bill abandons Obama-era standards of proof for sexual assault, known as “preponderance of the evidence” in favor of a “clear and convincing” level of proof. This requirement would apply only to sexual assault cases. In other words, crimes of lesser degree, like theft or physical assault, would require a higher standard of proof than sexual violence crimes.

 

The Senate Bill has stipulations which are equally troubling. It allows respondents to submit a survivor’s sexual and mental health history as evidence, a form of harassment that is without precedent in Title IX proceedings. In addition, the bill allows respondents to sue a survivor for making a “false statement,” effectively discouraging survivors from coming forward for fear of a lawsuit if there is a lack of conclusive evidence.

 

HB 573 and SB 259 have been on the legislative agenda for more than four months, and it seems that the bills have stalled for the time being. Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden is not optimistic that the proposal will reappear in the senate chamber this session. When interviewed by Missourinet reporter Alisa Nelson concerning SB 259, Rowden responded: “We’ll see. I haven’t talked to anybody this week that has pushed very hard to bring it back up. From my perspective for the moment, there’s a bunch of other things that are a little bit more pressing.”

 

The legislative halt coincides with reports that a Missouri lobbyist, Robert Mcintosh, created a “dark money” nonprofit, called Kingdom Principles, to push the pair of Title IX bills through the Missouri legislature. In addition to hiring twenty-nine lobbyists to advocate for the bills, Kingdom Principles reportedly spent thousands of dollars on a Facebook ad campaign, which dishonestly collects signatures for the Title IX reform bills by framing it as an initiative by President Trump to “protect due process” at the federal level. In reality, the user is signing in support of the state-level Title IX reform bills.

 

With this lull in legislative activity for the Title IX reforms comes an opportunity for concerned parties to voice their displeasure with the direction in which Missouri Title IX proceedings are headed.