WASHINGTON (AP) — The Education Department's civil rights chief apologized anew Thursday, this time to victims of campus sexual assault, for her "flippant" remarks attributing 90 percent of such claims to both parties being drunk, one participant in the meeting said.
The apology by Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights, came amid a series of meetings that her boss, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is holding to examine the impact of President Barack Obama's crackdown on campus sexual violence.
"As much as I appreciate apologies, which are difficult, unfortunately, there's no way to take it back. It's out there," said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Center, who attended the meeting and said Jackson apologized to the victims who attended. "What's extremely important now is that they do the hard work to counter those sorts of rape myths. They need to explicitly reject them."
Jackson was quoted in The New York Times on Wednesday 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.
Jackson issued a statement of apology Wednesday night, describing her remarks as "flippant."
Graves said survivors told their stories to DeVos and Jackson, who are considering whether to roll back Obama-era guidance that said sexual assault should be considered sex discrimination, which is prohibited under Title IX for schools that receive federal funding. Advocates for assault survivors who have spent years trying to get schools to take victims and a "rape culture" seriously worry that DeVos' series of roundtable meetings are really a preview for changing Obama's guidance.
DeVos also is meeting with people who say they were falsely accused and disciplined and with representatives of colleges and universities to talk about enforcement of Title IX as it relates to sexual assault.
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. Jackson said in the Times interview that investigations have not been "fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student."
Many of those who want Obama's guidance reversed have said they want assault cases referred to law enforcement.
Jackson sought to issue reassurances that both she and the department take the position that "all sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously."
Sen. Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate committee overseeing the Education Department, said in a letter sent Wednesday night 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."
As of Wednesday, there were 344 open sexual violence investigations at 242 postsecondary schools, according to a Title IX report provided by the Education Department.
Several schools had multiple cases pending, including Kansas State University and Indiana University at Bloomington with five each, the department list shows.
Baylor University in Texas had a single open case. The school has been embroiled in controversy over its handling of sexual assault allegations, and several women have sued. Art Briles was fired as football coach and Ken Starr was demoted from president and later resigned after a law firm reported in May 2016 that an investigation had found that the school had "created barriers" discouraging the reporting of sexual assaults.
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