Civil-Rights Official Apologizes for Saying 90% of Campus Rape Cases Stem From Regret

Updated (7/12/2017, 7:06 p.m.) with Ms. Jackson’s statement apologizing for her comments.

Candice E. Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, apologized late Wednesday for telling The New York Times, in an article published earlier in the day, that “90 percent” of accusations of sexual assault on colleges campuses stemmed from an accuser’s regret over a sexual encounter.

In a statement released by the department, Ms. Jackson said: “As a survivor of rape myself, I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience. My words in The New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates. What I said was flippant, and I am sorry. 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.”

The statement was issued after her remarks caused a furor that overshadowed her broader criticism, in the Times article, of how sexual-assault investigations are conducted on campuses. She described such inquiries as not balanced and often predisposed to favor the accuser.

Speaking about the gender-equity law known as Title IX, Ms. Jackson told the newspaper that accused students’ rights are often ignored. This week the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, will hear from victims of sexual violence as well as students who say they have been falsely accused of sexual assault and misconduct.

Ms. Jackson has also said that the department’s 2011 letter with Title IX guidance for college campuses is being considered for reversal or revision by a task force on reform.

She declared that too many individual Title IX cases remain open, saying that investigators are told to keep looking until they find a violation, even after finding nothing. Critics have denied that assertion.

Ms. Jackson also said that, in most cases, accused students never really overrode an accuser’s wishes.

“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,’” Ms. Jackson told the Times, in the comment that she later apologized for.

Studies have found that many instances of alleged sexual assaults involve one or both parties consuming alcohol. Advocates against sexual assault argue that such statistics place too much emphasis on blaming victims for drinking, and excuse the assailant’s behavior.

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