FILE- In this Oct. 26, 2005, file photo, Candice Jackson, author of ”Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine,” speaks with reporters outside Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. Jackson, assistant secretary for civil rights, told victims of sexual assault meeting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday, July 13, 2017, that she was sorry for her remarks that are raising questions about the government’s commitment to fighting campus sexual violence. (AP Photo/Mike Wintroath, File) ORG XMIT: NYJK501 less
Photo: Mike Wintroath
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has found a consistent adversary in U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
DeVos was the recipient of three letters from the senator in less than a month, all targeting the Department’s ability to adequately enforce Title IX. In the latest, Gillibrand called for the removal of Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights.
Jackson infamously told the New York Times earlier this month that 90 percent of campus sexual assault allegations “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.'”
It was that comment — for which Jackson later apologized — which inspired the third letter. It came just days after DeVos announced she will reevaluate a 2011 policy that told colleges and universities to use a “more likely than not” standard of evidence when deciding cases of sexual misconduct.
The announcement has shaken advocacy groups and drawn praise from critics who say the 2011 policy — issued as a “Dear Colleague” letter — deprives the accused of due process. Both sides say victims and the accused should be taken seriously, but disagree on how to do it.
“Tearing down policies that have helped to bring these crimes out of the shadows is the wrong approach,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Nobody wants to see the deck stacked in either direction, but we all have to face the fact that there continues to be terrible injustice for survivors of a heinous crime. This should be about decency and justice — not false ideology.”
So the third letter the senator sent — along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. — targeted Jackson, calling her comments “ignorant and dangerous.”
But Jackson told the Times about the hardships she heard and read about from students accused of sexual misconduct, recalling a conversation she had with a mother who walked in on her accused son trying to commit suicide.
In an era of high-profile false rape accusations — like Rolling Stone’s November 2014 cover story about sexual assault at the University of Virginia, a key element of which was later disproven — the focus of the effects of rape allegations has often landed on the accused. Earlier this month, Columbia University settled a lawsuit with the male student who was the target of a well-known protest in which his accuser carried a mattress around campus for months.
Meanwhile, Gillibrand, who has been a longtime advocate for sexual assault prevention, stood outside the Department of Education earlier this month with members of the nonprofit advocacy group Girls Inc. to share survivors’ stories.
Ashley Jeffrey Bouck, the executive director of Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region, based in Schenectady, said that while there must be due process for the accused, history has shown that victims of sexual assault are often disregarded when they come forward.
As for Jackson’s 90 percent comment, Bouck said remarks like those are more harmful than they appear.
“You can’t throw comments like that without having facts,” she said. “It just perpetuates the problems that victims of sexual assault and crime have had to deal with for years and years, when you keep throwing things like that out there that aren’t based on true facts, just upon conversations that you’re having that day which happened to be with people who had been accused of crime.”