Education Dept. official apologizes for comments on sexual assault

Julia Munslow
Candice Jackson, center, sits with Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, right, during the town hall debate on Oct. 9, 2016, in St Louis. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Education Department’s top civil rights official has apologized for her characterization that 90 percent of campus sexual assault accusations investigated by the federal government under Title IX stem from drunken regret or the fallout of a broken romance.

Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for the department’s Office of Civil Rights, said in a Wednesday New York Times article, “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 apologized for her comments in a late Wednesday statement from the Education Department, calling them “flippant.”

“As a survivor of rape myself, I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience,” Jackson said. “My words in the New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates. … All sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously — which has always been my position and will always be the position of this Department.”

Sexual assault survivors and advocates have blasted Jackson for the comments. The Senate’s assistant minority leader, Patty Murray, D-Wash., slammed Jackson’s comments in a Wednesday letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In the letter, first obtained by BuzzFeed News, Murray wrote that Jackson’s views promulgated “damaging misinformation about sexual violence.”

Murray, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, said she was “deeply disturbed” by Jackson’s characterization of sexual assault accusations investigated under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, especially given Jackson’s position as head of the department’s Office of Civil Rights.

“At the least, this suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of campus sexual assault and suggests that OCR is not prepared to take accounts from survivors seriously,” Murray wrote.

Jackson also said in the Times article that some campus representatives described the public list of universities under Title IX investigation as “a list of shame.” The list, published in 2014 by the Education Department, also identifies schools where investigations have been initiated but have not yet found proof of sexual misconduct.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before a Senate subcommittee on June 6. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Murray expressed concerns that Jackson’s description presented “a clear lack of understanding about the importance of transparency in the Federal government.” The senator cited a 2015 American Association of American Universities report on 27 universities that found 23.1 percent of female undergraduates experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct by physical force, and called for continued public reports of schools under Title IX investigation.

The senator’s letter also took aim at DeVos for her refusal to commit to upholding current Title IX investigation procedures. Under President Trump, the department is preparing to reassess how federal investigations of campus sexual assault are handled. Democrats have praised former President Barack Obama for a more aggressive approach to investigations, while Republicans have said Obama’s strategy went too far, citing concerns of federal overreach.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., also wrote to DeVos, who is scheduled to meet Thursday with sexual assault survivors, those accused of sexual assault and higher education administrators.

“Any rollback of protections for victims of campus sexual assault is completely unacceptable, and your refusal to express support for federal protections of victims of sexual assault does a disservice to the women and men who have bravely spoken out about their own experiences in order to end this injustice,” Casey wrote.

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