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'Blurred Lines' Author Criticizes Pullback Of Campus Sexual Assault Policies


Vanessa Grigoriadis interviewed more than a hundred college students around the country for her new book "Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, And Consent On Campus," and she joins us to reflect on today's announcement by the education secretary. Welcome.

VANESSA GRIGORIADIS: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: You spent a lot of time on college campuses for your book looking into cases of sexual assault. What did you see, and how did it compare to the description that Secretary Betsy DeVos gave today?

GRIGORIADIS: So Betsy DeVos is really interested in acts that are either violent or boys who are completely innocent. And the truth of what's happening on campus is much more complicated than that.

SHAPIRO: How so?

GRIGORIADIS: What I found on campus were a lot of very murky situations. There's a boy from two floors down in your dorm who comes into your room one night and gets in bed with you and starts groping you. There's a football party where a cheerleader may sleep consensually with a football player, but then his two friends come in the room, and she isn't down with that.

SHAPIRO: And do you think that right now college campuses are handling this in an appropriate way, or do you think the characterization that Secretary DeVos gave today that things are dramatically askew is true?

GRIGORIADIS: I think that every college is doing better than they were doing in 2011 when Obama made these regulations. I do not believe that the regulations should be rolled back.

SHAPIRO: Which is what DeVos is suggesting.

GRIGORIADIS: Absolutely. She would like to cut off the campus court system at its knees.

SHAPIRO: How would that change things if, as she proposes, it shifts to a more regional hub system?

GRIGORIADIS: The assumption is this regional hub system would be run by former criminal prosecutors, people who are not interested in all of the types of assault that I just described. They're going to be interested in blood and bruises. All of these questions of consent and did you act in a moral fashion to your fellow student - that's all going to go out the window.

SHAPIRO: One thing we know about sexual assault - whatever else you want to say about it - is that it is extremely complicated, and there are a lot of gray areas. And when you're talking about somebody's education, their lifelong reputation, does DeVos have a point that perhaps people should be cut a break?

GRIGORIADIS: I don't think that they should be cut a break in terms of not have to have some accountability for their actions. I do think that there are some boys who are genuinely caught in this vast time of transition of sexual norms on college campuses where almost all universities in America now say, yes means yes. No means no no longer holds. Silence is not consent. You are required to have sex in a way that is thoughtful and compassionate with your partner.

And there are boys who have been socialized in the norms of America that didn't tell them they needed to do that until they reached 18 and enrolled in university. And those boys, if they express genuine remorse, do deserve to get very low levels of punishment, to have some sort of coursework or a seminar of re-education. And let's leave it at that. We don't need to ruin their lives.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that Secretary DeVos' proposal will, in your view, make campuses less safe for female students?

GRIGORIADIS: I think she'll make it much less safe because girls are going to not think that they can get any sort of justice from their schools. There's already vast underreporting. There's only a handful of cases at each school each year. The majority of American Universities don't even have one rape case brought through their courts during a school year. So we should do everything we can to support the people who actually take the step of coming forward.

SHAPIRO: Vanessa Grigoriadis is the author of "Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, And Consent On Campus," which came out this week. Thanks a lot.


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