In July 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos held a summit on Title IX, the 1972 federal statute that bans discrimination on the basis of sex at universities. Inside the Department of Education building, she met with the National Coalition for Men Carolinas (NCFMC), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), three organizations that claim there is a crisis of false rape allegations against male college students. Outside, despite the sweltering heat in Washington, D.C., more than a 100 people rallied, hoping to prevent the department from rolling back protections for students who are victims of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. “Dear Betsy,” one sign read. “Help end rape culture, don’t perpetuate it.”
Nearly 3,000 pages of e-mails obtained by the anti-corruption organization Democracy Forward through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with The Nation reveal that the July 2017 meeting was part of a much deeper collaboration between the DOE and these men’s rights groups. From May to September 2017, the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights partnered with NCFMC, FACE, and SAVE to develop regulations on campus sexual assault. E-mails make clear that staffers from these organizations participated in conference calls, offered legal advice, and met with high-level employees at the Department of Education. The DOE even hired the main funder of SAVE to help draft new regulations and teamed up with FACE to try to produce supportive op-eds.
The views of these groups have never been hidden. In public and in e-mails with DOE employees, members of these organizations have demeaned the credibility of young women, ridiculed sexual assault survivors, and pushed junk science on campus rape.
In September 2017, DeVos announced that she would rescind Obama-era guidance on how educational institutions should handle sexual assault. A year later, the DOE published its new proposed regulations; this week, two federal courts declined to stop them from being implemented, following one lawsuit from 17 states and the District of Columbia and another by New York school boards; and so today they go into effect.
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The new rules chip away at protections for sexual assault survivors. Among other changes, universities are no longer obligated to investigate most sexual assaults that occur off-campus, where an estimated 80 percent of college students live, or to complete their inquiry within 60 days. Professors and administrators no longer have to report sexual violence when they’re informed of an incident. The regulations also narrow the type of sexual harassment that universities are required to probe to behavior “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the [school’s] education program or activity.” At the same time, the DOE effectively raised the evidentiary bar for schools to take action from a “preponderance of evidence” to a “clear and convincing” standard—or from a more than 50 percent likelihood to a more than 75 percent likelihood. Universities would also be found in violation of the regulations only if they responded to sexual harassment in a way that was “deliberately indifferent.” (The DOE did not answer The Nation’s request for comment.)
In May 2020, the ACLU sued the DOE over the new rules, estimating that universities would investigate 32 percent fewer reports of sexual harassment and assault. The sexual assault survivor-advocacy group Know Your IX, who joined the ACLU’s lawsuit against the DOE, denounced the regulations as “an outright attack on students’ civil rights.”
The partnership between men’s rights groups and the Department of Education began in 2017 when the new deputy assistant secretary at the Office of Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, sought their advice.
A rape survivor herself, Jackson wrote Their Lives, a 2005 book on the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment and assault. In spring 2016, at the behest of Roger Stone, Jackson joined the Trump campaign. Her main job was to secure media interviews for Kathy Shelton, who had been raped as a child in 1975 by two men, one of whom was represented by a young Hillary Clinton. Jackson became Shelton’s personal attorney, and appeared alongside her on The Sean Hannity Show on Fox News.
When women came forward with stories of Trump’s sexual misconduct, Jackson helped organize a press conference with Shelton and other women who accused Bill Clinton of rape and abuse. She and the women then attended a presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump. Jackson said she believed that unlike those who accused Bill Clinton, the women accusing Trump were “fake victims.”
After the Trump inauguration, Jackson took over as acting head of the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights while the formal nomination process started in parallel. The Office of Civil Rights is meant to ensure that federal antidiscrimination statutes like Title IX are appropriately enforced. Since the Clinton administration, the government has used Title IX to compel schools to address sexual violence. Universities that fail to do so risk losing their federal funding.
The month she and DeVos met with FACE, SAVE, and NCFMC, Jackson told The New York Times that sexual assault “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 later apologized for her “flippant” comments.
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E-mails acquired by Democracy Forward during their own lawsuit against the DOE over the new Title IX regulations reveal that Jackson’s comments to the Times came on the heels of several meetings with groups that deny the pervasiveness of sexual violence on college campuses. It was also Jackson who arranged for the groups to meet DeVos in July 2017 and asked FACE to collaborate with the DOE on op-eds supporting the new regulations. (Jackson did not answer The Nation’s request for an interview.)
Through Jackson, men’s rights groups e-mailed, spoke on the phone, and met with DOE staffers several times. While survivor groups also sat down with Jackson, they found her unreceptive. In a meeting with the heads of Know Your IX, Jackson was told about the men’s rights groups’ history of harassment. The manager of Know Your IX, Sage Carson, said she specifically told Jackson that NCFMC harassed women. She recalled telling Jackson, “This is not a fair process concern. These are men that terrorize women.” Carson said Jackson answered by saying it was important to hear both sides of the story.
NCFM, SAVE, and FACE all say false rape accusations are endemic and that university proceedings on sexual assault deny due process to the accused. For this, they largely blame the “Dear Colleague Letter” that the DOE’s assistant secretary of civil rights under Obama sent to universities in 2011. S. Daniel Carter—the president of Safety Advisors for Education Campuses, which trains higher education professionals on Title IX—told The Nation that the document mostly reminded universities of standards set by earlier administrations, though it had a few additional recommendations. The letter suggested that schools use a new deadline of 60 days to process most investigations, asked that universities use a preponderance of the evidence standard, and requested that universities investigate sexual harassment charges.
Men’s rights groups condemned the letter as endangering the due process rights of male students accused of sexual violence—though many did not always seem familiar with the contents of the note itself.
FACE told the DOE that since the Dear Colleague Letter, students accused of sexual assault were not able to see complaints made against them until shortly before their hearing. In reality, the Obama-era guidance (which, unlike the recent rules, are not binding) gave both sides in Title IX proceedings the same opportunity to access information, challenge evidence, bring forward witnesses, and appeal any punishment. But FACE, SAVE, and NCFMC groups draw from a handful of anecdotes and testimonies—some that indeed show errors in the implementation of Title IX—to support their narrative that the letter itself violated men’s rights.
DeVos repeated FACE’s inaccurate claims about the Dear Colleague Letter in a September 2017 speech. Cynthia Garrett, the copresident of FACE, defended the group’s stance to The Nation: “We had kids that were never given the statements that accused them of something. They never knew the details of the statements that had been alleged. They were not allowed to know who witnesses are. They were never given copies of witness statements. They weren’t allowed to see evidence against them. They weren’t allowed to introduce evidence that supported their opinion.”
The privileged access NCFMC, FACE, and SAVE had at the DOE is particularly striking given their fringe status. None of them report more than a handful of full-time staffers. While FACE works with students it claims were falsely accused of rape and organized a letter-writing campaign to Jackson’s e-mail account, NCFM and SAVE have no apparent grassroots support. All are small-budget organizations: The annual total revenue of NCFM was $44,073 in 2018; SAVE’s was $316,661 in 2019; and FACE brought in $63,674 in 2018.
In August 2018, the National Coalition for Men’s Carolinas chapter held its annual conference at a Hilton Garden Inn, an hour outside Charlotte, N.C. At any given time, there were no more than 20 people in the small conference room. Outside, NCFM’s president, Harry Crouch, handed out blue rubber bracelets reading “Save the Male.” The conference’s theme was “Crisis on Campus”—the “crisis” being false rape allegations. NCFMC’s president, Gregory Josefchuk, told the audience that Title IX investigations had made college a dangerous place for men. While the conference billed itself as intended for college students, none seemed to be in attendance. The majority of the people there appeared to be speakers.
NCFM has uploaded photos and personal information of women it called “false rape accusers” online, leading to their harassment. The organization was in the news in July, when a former member of NCFM, Roy Den Hollander, was suspected of shooting dead the son of US District Judge Esther Salas, who had overseen a lawsuit by Den Hollander against the male-only military draft. A week earlier, Hollander is alleged to have gunned down Mark Angelucci, NCFM’s vice president, in Southern California. According to Crouch, NCFM kicked Den Hollander out of the group for threatening a member in 2015.
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NCFM’s Carolinas chapter says its primary job is to assist alleged perpetrators of sexual assault at universities by connecting them with lawyers and helping them file complaints with the DOE’s office for civil rights in order to end “harmful discrimination of men and boys.”
E-mails show that on May 30, 2017, Jackson contacted Gordon Finley, a NCFM adviser. Finley wrote back, “Thank you very much for your kind call today. It’s always nice to know that someone actually reads what you write.”
Finley then sent Jackson literature that emphasized sexual assault of men by women and posited that there was a “new war on men.” His materials claimed that 40 to 60 percent of rape allegations by women are false.
The 40 percent figure, which men’s rights groups often cite, is taken from a 1994 study of just over 100 cases. It reflects the percentage of cases in which police officers noted that women said they filed a false complaint after police asked them to take a lie detector test. The study’s director, Eugene J. Kanin of Perdue University, didn’t further investigate the officers’ standards for marking a complaint as false. Kanin said the withdrawals “could be the result of the complainants’ desire to avoid a second assault at the hands of the police.” While statistics on false rape allegations are notoriously hard to determine, a 2013 overview of studies found that 2 to 8 percent of claims are likely false.
Distorting studies to give the impression that women regularly lie about sexual assault and rape is common practice among men’s rights activists, according to Jody Raphael, a senior research fellow at DePaul University. In her book Rape Is Rape, Raphael writes, “Rape deniers seek to sow confusion about false-rape-claims research, alleging that disagreement about the prevalence of false rape claims exists.”
Despite Finley’s misleading claims, contact between the DOE and NCFM continued. A month after Jackson called Finley, the Carolinas chapter of the NCFM had at least three more interactions with her office. A June 15, 2017, e-mail indicates that James Ferg-Cadima, the office for civil rights’ acting deputy assistant secretary for policy, met with NCFMC president Josefchuk. (Josefchuk declined to be interviewed for this piece.)
After that meeting, Josefchuk sent Ferg-Cadima a presentation claiming that men at college could be ensnared in a sexual assault investigation for drunken sexual encounters. “Drunk sex=RAPE,” one slide reads. Josefchuk described universities as “hostile to men” because of “the sexual grievance industry” and a “culture of presumed guilt.” The PowerPoint opened with a “Snowflake warning” and ended with an exhortation that NCFMC also featured prominently on its website at the time: “Don’t be THAT girl. Embarrassed by a hookup? Angry at a boyfriend? Willing to lie to destroy a life?”
In the presentation, Josefchuk claimed sexual assault was rare at universities. By looking at the number of rape and sexual assault convictions at the three colleges, he wrote, “1 out of 5? More like 1 out of 1500 [women are raped during college]!”
Raphael reviewed Josefchuk’s presentation and told The Nation, “The ‘evidence’ is useless.” The number of convictions is not an accurate way of determining the number of rape or sexual assaults. According to the 2018 Criminal Victimization Survey of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only a fourth of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police. An overview of FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics data by the anti–sexual violence organization RAINN found that out of 1,000 sexual assaults, only five cases will lead to a felony conviction.
E-mails show that despite the sexist language and far-fetched statistics in the presentation, Candice Jackson asked Josefchuk to address her and her DOE colleagues on a conference call. The day before, Josefchuk e-mailed Jackson NCFMC’s “list of due process remedies which are foundational to ensuring that accused college students are treated fairly and impartially by universities during a Title IX investigation.” He thanked her: “It is great relief to know that OCR [Office of Civil Rights] is hearing the voices of those who have been victims of a biased, inequitable and unfair system stacked against students accused of Title IX violations.”
The NCFMC recommendations include the suggestion that the alleged victims and perpetrators “shall have the right to question and cross examine each other and witnesses” and that “the accused shall have the right to face his/her accuser unless he/she has explicitly waived that right.” In other words, a student accused of rape, sexual assault, or harassment would have the right to confront the student they are accused of attacking. The 2011 Dear Colleague Letter had counseled against this, noting that “allowing an alleged perpetrator to question an alleged victim directly may be traumatic or intimidating, thereby possibly escalating or perpetuating a hostile environment.”
Though the DOE’s final regulations do not include such a controversial measure, they do allow one party’s representative to cross-examine the other person. In some cases, this could allow an alleged perpetrator’s lawyer to interrogate an alleged victim. A June 2017 e-mail shows that a DOE staffer forwarded Josefchuk’s recommendations for changes to Title IX regulations to Office of Civil Rights staffers.
Jackson developed an even closer relationship with FACE, a group started in 2013 by three mothers of sons accused of sexual assault—accusations they say are false. The group says it focuses on providing resources and emotional support for students accused of sexual assault and rape and their families.
At the beginning of the group’s existence, Sherry Warner-Seefeld, FACE’s cofounder and former president, said she kept more misogynistic groups at a distance, though she did work with groups like SAVE on some press releases and a radio campaign. “They were always calls that I took, people I spoke to, but that was the extent of it,” she told The Nation. “We didn’t want to be a men’s rights group.” But in 2016, Warner-Seefeld, a full-time school teacher, stepped down from the presidency of FACE, and board members Cynthia Purcell Garrett and Alison Scott replaced her.
After Garrett and Scott took charge, FACE embraced rhetoric more typical of men’s rights groups. In a March 2018 piece in The College Fix, Garrett, who also served on the American Bar Association’s task force on Title IX, wrote, “Campus ideology has turned a ‘nine-second stare’ and ‘unwanted touching’ into expulsion-worthy behavior.” The article also disparaged a woman who said she had been assaulted. (Garrett told The Nation that FACE aimed to be balanced and should not be characterized as a men’s rights group.)
Jackson agreed to meet with FACE after the mother of an accused student contacted her in April 2017. Jackson began corresponding with Garrett. When asked, Garrett downplayed the messages: “I remember e-mailing Candice Jackson’s secretary sometimes. I don’t think I e-mailed Candice Jackson specifically. I don’t know that I even have her e-mail address. I might have. I don’t remember that. If I did, it wasn’t very often.” Jackson and Garrett, in fact, directly exchanged at least 26 e-mails over a five-month period. (When asked later about the messages, Garrett told The Nation, “FACE has never denied having had contacts with Department of Education officials, some of which most likely included Candice Jackson.”)
Jackson later asked the group to show support for DeVos’s revision of Title IX regulations by writing op-eds that explained how Title IX proceedings under the Obama administration violated due process. DOE staffers helped FACE work on these pieces and suggested places to publish them.
In a September 2017 e-mail, FACE co-presidents Garrett and Scott appear to have sent the op-eds to an Office of Civil Rights staffer ahead of DeVos’s speech announcing her decision to overturn the 2011 campus sexual assault measures. “As you know Candice Jackson has asked FACE to provide Op Eds to be published in connection with Secretary DeVos’ speech today,” the e-mail reads. “Here are four.”
The op-eds told, often anonymously and in harrowing terms, the personal stories of young men harmed by rape accusations. One man, who said he was falsely accused, wrote, “I can’t help thinking how different my life would be in the absence of OCR’s 2011 Title IX guidance.” It is unclear if the op-eds were ever published. (Despite the existence of these e-mails, Garrett denied that FACE sent these op-eds to the DOE, telling The Nation, “We never did draft any op-eds, ever. At anybody’s request. Never. We did not draft any at that time.”)
FACE’s copresidents seem to share a distrust of many women who allege campus sexual assault. On March 30, 2017, Scott jeered at a woman who said a FACE volunteer had invited her rapist to a hearing at the Georgia capitol building. Scott wrote under a Facebook livestream of the young woman’s testimony: “SUCH a joke; non legit ‘victims’ make a mockery of legit victims. Hop off the bandwagon and wipe the smirk off your face, in honor of the true victims of sex assault.”
In a February 2018 interview with “Defenders of American Exceptionalism,” an amateur YouTube show, Garrett derided young women who lodged sexual assault complaints: “[Girls] don’t say anything, and that’s another thing that drives me crazy about the college thing is these girls just lay there and have sex. And later they say, ‘Oh no I didn’t really want to, and he didn’t ask me.’ Really?” When reached for comment, Garrett and Scott claimed the comments were “taken out of context and do not accurately reflect our views on sexual misconduct.”
Garrett explained in a subsequent interview with The Nation that the issue to her is “about women who are getting the message that they’re potential victims, and they’re not feeling empowered to say no and walk out of the room.… I just think we need to teach them that they should just walk out, or smack the guy you know—but maybe there’s some other interest there that keeps them.”
FACE is also closely linked to SAVE, which has been lobbying against the Violence Against Women Act since 2008 and has compared discrimination against men under the Violence Against Women Act to Jim Crow laws and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. SAVE also administers a Campus Rape Hoax page on Facebook, which calls for the punishment of “fake victims.” Garrett is a board member for SAVE, and the organizations share staffers.
Jackson reached out to SAVE, and the DOE eventually hired its primary funder, Hans Bader, to work as an attorney during the drafting of the new Title IX regulations.
In one of Jackson’s early e-mails to Garrett on May 18, 2017, Jackson asked Garrett to urge Edward Everett Bartlett, an employee at the Department of Health and Human Services and the president of SAVE, to reply to her. “I hate to be a pest about it,” Jackson’s e-mail reads, “but I really want to keep these conversations moving forward.”
In a September 2017 e-mail, SAVE Deputy Executive Director Christopher Perry indicates that he met with Brandon Sherman, a special assistant at the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights “a few times at the various get togethers and dinner with Candice to discuss the Dear Colleague Letter.”
SAVE is discreet about its funding streams, operating in large part through a parallel group, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, which shares employees, leadership, a Federal Employee Identification Number, and an address with SAVE.
Bader, the lawyer the DOE would soon hire, is CPI’s biggest funder. In fiscal year 2015–16, Bader donated nearly $180,000 to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity through his Bader Family Foundation and another $115,000 in 2017.
Bader previously worked as lawyer for the libertarian and climate-change-denying think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, and for the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights during the George W. Bush administration. He has since emerged as a champion of students who say they’ve been falsely accused of rape and a vigorous opponent of Obama-era measures on sexual violence at universities. At a SAVE press conference in March 2015, Bader declared that the Obama administration “has made punishment of innocent students more likely and in some cases inevitable through its rules on how colleges must handle sexual harassment.”
Bader is also the main funder of a group called Project Prevention-CRACK, which sterilizes drug users in exchange for cash. Bader gave $680,000 to the organization between 2012 and 2018. The group came under fire in the 1990s when its director and founder justified the sterilization of crack users by comparing women suffering from addiction to dogs: “We campaign to neuter dogs and yet we allow women to have 10 or 12 kids that they can’t take care of.”
Bader also funds opposition to affirmative action through the Center for Equal Opportunity, which bills itself as “the nation’s only conservative think tank devoted to issues of race and ethnicity.” It was Roger Clegg, the think tank’s president and general counsel, who first told Jackson to meet with SAVE, according to a May 2017 e-mail from Jackson to Garrett.
In the four months prior to his employment at the DOE, Bader exchanged at least 14 e-mails with Jackson, dispensing lengthy legal advice. E-mails show that the two also met in person that June.
A former staffer at the Office for Civil Rights confirmed that Bader worked directly on the regulations during his employment. Carter, the campus safety activist, told The Nation that Bader “has been one of the principal if not the principal driving force behind the new Title IX regulations.” (Bader did not answer The Nation’s request for comment.)
On August 7, 2017, Bader forwarded Jackson an e-mail from SAVE, writing that “telling colleges and schools they must enforce the same restrictions on and off campus to comply with Title IX may be at odds with the intent of the Supreme Court.” The new regulations remove the requirement to treat incidents the same whether or not they occur on campus, just as Bader suggested.
Similarly, schools will no longer be required to implement interim measures to separate alleged victims and perpetrators—like switching dorms or classes. An e-mail from Bader on June 23, 2017, shows that he recommended this change to Jackson. “A college should not be retroactively faulted for not having immediately and mechanically imposed interim measures against the accused,” he wrote. “It might be useful to suggest that interim measures should be reserved for situations where it looks like there is a reasonable probability of guilt…as well as some prospect of irreparable harm.”
A day before DeVos publicly declared her intention to overturn and revise the Obama administration’s Title IX regulations, Jackson sent Bader excerpts of the speech. “Feel free to call me (night or day) to talk it over,” Jackson wrote him on September 6, 2017. Bader answered with advice on how the DOE could withdraw previous guidance, writing: “It conflicts with past administrative practice (and court rulings) about the reach of Title IX, by micromanaging school discipline.”
That night, Jackson responded enthusiastically: “Thank YOU, Hans! Your insights are invaluable.”
The new regulations fit within a pattern at the DOE: DeVos has repeatedly cut federal support for students in need of help. She, for instance, made it harder for students defrauded by their colleges to have their debt forgiven. A federal judge even fined the DOE $100,000 and found it in contempt of court for collecting on the debt of students cheated by Corinthian Colleges, even after the department had been ordered to stop.
The new Title IX regulations are no exception. According to The New York Times, an internal DOE analysis found that the Trump-era Title IX rules would reduce sexual harassment investigations by colleges and universities by 39 percent, saving educational institutions $19 million. As Catherine E. Lhamon, the former head of the Office for Civil Rights under the Obama administration, told the Times, the new regulations are “aspiring to reduce the number of times a school investigates, rather than aspiring to reduce the number of harms that students experience.”
Jackson no longer runs the Office of Civil Rights. In July 2018, she joined the DOE’s Office of General Counsel. In her absence, the Office for Civil Rights has continued to investigate universities for bias against men, including on behalf of a repeat plaintiff, Kursat Pegkoz, who is a member of NCFMC and spoke at their August 2018 conference.
Robin Thurston, the lead lawyer in Democracy Forward’s case against the DOE’s Title IX regulations—alongside survivor advocacy groups SurvJustice, Victim Rights Law Center, and Equal Rights Advocates—argued in court in March 2019 that “underlying these [Title IX] changes and reversals are unfounded generalizations about women and girls, particularly their credibility regarding reported experiences of sexual harassment, including sexual violence.”
Sexual violence remains appallingly common on campus. A 2019 survey of 181,752 students from 33 colleges and universities by the Association of American Universities found that more than a quarter of undergraduate women reported “nonconsensual sexual contact by force or inability to consent” as did nearly 7 percent of undergraduate men and almost 23 percent of transgender, genderqueer, questioning, or not listed undergraduate students. Regulations that reduce the number of sexual violence investigations is unlikely to lower these numbers. In May, Know Your IX wrote, DeVos’s new rules “on Title IX will harm the lives of student survivors if it goes into effect.” As of today, they have the force of law.