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Department of Education official apologizes for remarks about campus sexual assault

July 13, 2017
Candice Jackson, the department's acting civil rights chief, had said 90% of assault claims stemmed from drunken behavior.

The U.S. Education Department’s civil rights chief says she’s sorry for making “flippant” remarks attributing 90 percent of campus sexual assault claims to both parties being drunk.

The Associated Press reports that the apology by Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights, came as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is about to hold meetings to examine the impact of the Obama administration’s stepped-up efforts to hold schools accountable for investigating sexual violence.

Jackson was quoted in The New York Times as saying federal rules have resulted in many false accusations under the law known as Title IX.

In most investigations, she said, there’s “not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman....Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of, ‘We were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Jackson is quoted as saying in an interview.

In her statement of apology, Jackson says she is a rape survivor.

“I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience,” she said. “My words in The New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates. What I said was flippant, and I am sorry.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate committee overseeing the Education Department, said in a letter to DeVos that Jackson’s remark “suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of campus sexual assault and suggests that (Jackson’s office) is not prepared to take accounts from survivors seriously.”

Advocates for assault survivors have spent years trying to get schools to take victims and a “rape culture” seriously. They worry that DeVos’ series of meetings are really setting the stage a rollback of Obama’s guidance, which said sexual assault is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX for schools that receive federal funding.

But groups representing those who say they have been falsely accused suggest the Obama-era guidance weighted campus justice systems in favor of those alleging sexual violence. Many of those who want Obama’s guidance reversed have said they want assault cases referred to law enforcement.

As of Wednesday, there are 344 open sexual violence investigations at 242 postsecondary schools, according to a Title IX report provided by the Education Department.

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