The acting head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights apologized late Wednesday after comments she made about campus sexual violence sparked outrage.
Candice Jackson, the acting head of the civil rights office, told The New York Times that 90 percent of cases "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.’"
Later, in a written apology, Jackson said that what she said was "flippant, and I am sorry."
“As a survivor of rape myself, I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience," the apology 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.”
Jackson leads the office tasked with enforcing the federal Title IX law prohibiting sex-based discrimination. Her comments came a day before Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is set to have a series of meetings with advocates for campus sexual assault survivors and those accused of assault.
Jackson’s comments were a major departure from the stance of the Obama administration, which used its authority under Title IX to issue guidance in 2011 aimed at encouraging students who have been harassed or assaulted to report what happened to them and seek justice. Most notably, the guidance says universities should use a lower standard of evidence in disciplinary hearings than that used in criminal trials.
But her comments were in line with the views of critics who say the Obama administration policy is unfair to the accused. The remarks stoked fear among advocates for survivors of sexual assault that the meetings on Thursday are a first step toward rescinding the 2011 guidance. DeVos declined to commit to keeping the Obama guidance in place during her Senate confirmation hearing.
Jackson told the Times that college investigative processes have not been “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student.” She said that students have been branded rapists “when the facts just don’t back that up” and that in most investigations there’s “not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman."