‘We were both drunk’: How a top civil rights official describes most Title IX campus rape accusations

Julia Munslow
Candice Jackson of the U.S. Dept. of Education, center, stands with Kellyanne Conway and Ben Carson prior to the second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton at Washington University in St. Louis, Oct. 9, 2016. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

A top civil rights official in the U.S. Department of Education characterized “90 percent” of campus sexual assault accusations that rise to the level of a federal Title IX investigation as amounting to “We were both drunk” in an interview with the New York Times.

Candice L. Jackson, the acting head of the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights, told the Times that she believes Title IX investigative process needs to be reexamined.

“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 said.

Appointed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in April, Jackson currently runs the part of the agency that handles investigations into schools for discrimination based on race, disability and gender. She will remain the acting head until the Senate confirms a permanent assistant secretary.

Jackson, who described herself as a survivor of sexual assault, said that campus sexual assault investigations are not “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student.” Students are labeled as rapists even “when the facts just don’t back that up,” she said.

Accused students’ rights are often ignored in Title IX cases, Jackson said. She noted that hundreds of cases are still pending because investigators are told to continue probing until they can find some sort of violation, a claim that former civil rights head Catherine Lhamon called “patently, demonstrably untrue.”

While it’s difficult to measure the prevalence of false accusations, the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women found that several “rigorous” studies estimate that between 2 to 10 percent of sexual assault reports turn out to be false.

Jackson issued a statement late Wednesday apologizing for her remarks, characterizing them as “flippant.”

“As a survivor of rape myself, I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience,” Jackson wrote. “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.”

At the civil rights office, Jackson could play a key role in helping DeVos assess Obama-era policies promoting a more aggressive approach to campus sexual assault investigations. While Democrats lauded the previous administration’s emphasis on campus sexual assault investigations, Republicans have said the policies demonstrated federal overreach.

Jackson was a staunch defender of the women who accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, but previously called those who have accused President Trump of sexual harassment as “fake victims,” according to BuzzFeed News.

DeVos is scheduled to meet Thursday with campus sexual assault survivors, those accused of sexual assault and higher education administrators to discuss Title IX and how institutions handle sexual assault.

Update (7/13/17 at 8:10 a.m.): This story has been updated to include Jackson’s apology. 

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