New proposal could change how college campuses investigate sexual assaults

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

A new proposal would redefine sexual assault and change the way colleges and universities investigate the cases. 

The Department of Education says the changes to Title IX would still take reports of sexual assault seriously, but that they also assure the accused that they're not immediately deemed guilty either.

At Wichita State University, students like Gabrielle Villar, a sexual assault survivor herself, have spent a lot of time working to empower other survivors to report their attacks.

"We have such a strong culture of empowering survivors," Villar said.

She worries all of that work will take a back seat because of proposed changes.

University of Kansas law professor and rape law expert Corey Rayburn Yung fears the same. 

"The net result is it's not going to be good for student safety," he said.

One of the major changes would tweak the way sexual harassment is defined. The proposal says sexual harassment is "unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity."

Another change -- the accused would be allowed to cross-examine the victim through an attorney, in a live hearing.

"There's always the concern of the survivor being re-traumatized or potentially blamed for their assault," Villar said.

They're all standards that Rayburn Yung says aren't required when schools investigate students accused of other crimes. He argues why make sex assault civil rights laws different?

"That's one of the oddities here is that these rules will be specific to sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations. and not to other forms of criminal conduct or school conduct infractions," Rayburn Yung said.

Rayburn Yung says the changes would give more power to the accused and would likely deter victims.

Right now, the proposal is in a 60-day waiting period before the new rules would go into effect.

The ACLU says 95 percent of campus rapes go unreported. Studies show up to a 25 percent of college women and about 15 percent of college men say they've been victims of sexual assault.

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