Being accused of sexual misconduct is a serious matter in any situation—but for college students facing such accusations, the investigative process can be incredibly confusing and the future murky. Colleges and universities face ongoing pressure to pursue sexual misconduct allegations aggressively under federal law—and failing to do so can result in a loss of federal funding. Sadly, this pressure often works against the accused, who may suffer from a lack of due process or unfair disciplinary action as a result. If you're a college student in South Carolina facing sexual misconduct allegations, here's what you need to know to protect your rights.
Rule Changes by the Department of Education
In May 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) rolled out some significant rule changes regarding how Title IX protections should be interpreted and enforced. These rules have gone into effect for the 2020-21 school year, leaving many schools scrambling to figure out how to adjust their procedures. The new rules effectively change the way schools must process sexual misconduct claims, and they even revise the DOE's definition of sexual harassment itself. Here are the most noteworthy changes.
New investigative processes
Colleges and universities are now required to have a single hearing process for all sexual misconduct allegations concerning students, faculty, and staff. These hearings must now include live cross-examination of witnesses, and any witness who is unwilling to participate in the hearing will have their testimony excluded from the investigation.
The DOE has clarified when and where schools are responsible for investigating claims of misconduct—specifically, they must investigate any alleged incident that occurs in any location/event where the school has “substantial control.” This encompasses both on-campus and off-campus locations, including fraternity and sorority houses. The jurisdiction does not extend, however, to other types of off-campus housing, or to students in overseas study programs.
Colleges and universities are responsible for investigating only sexual assault or harassment claims for which they have “actual knowledge” of the allegations. This new provision overrides previous policies in which the schools could be penalized for not investigating incidents about which they should have “reasonably known.”
Redefining “sexual harassment”
Where Title IX provisions once defined sexual misconduct as “any unwelcome contact of a sexual nature,” the DOE has sharply narrowed its definitions of the types of harassment for which schools are responsible for investigating. Under the new rules, sexual harassment only includes the following situations:
- Dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking
- Quid pro quo (i.e., school staff or faculty attempting to trade favors for sexual acts)
- “Unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
On this third point, the “equal access to education” clause is significant because it suggests the school may not view the alleged contact as “sexual harassment” unless it denies the victim equal access.
How Schools Are Adapting to the Rule Changes
The new DOE rules regarding Title IX enforcement apply to colleges and universities nationwide that receive federal funding. However, it does not preclude the option for individual schools to revise their own student conduct policies to maintain the broader sexual misconduct definitions—and some schools are doing just that. As a result, depending on the school and the situation, a South Carolina student accused of misconduct could potentially still face school disciplinary actions even if the alleged incident doesn't fall within the scope of Title IX. Even worse, it's conceivable that school policy changes may allow the school to conduct two parallel investigations of the same allegations simultaneously.
Uncertainties for the Accused
In addition to schools adjusting their policies, current developments have placed the new DOE rules into question. Attorneys General from 18 states have filed claims against the DOE, saying the new rules strip away too many protections for the victims of sexual misconduct. If a Democratic administration is elected in 2020, there's also a good chance the new administration will roll back these new rules.
None of this bodes well for the student accused of sexual misconduct. Between conflicting or ambiguous school policies, different rules from school to school, and the uncertain future of the current Title IX interpretations, a move intended to make things easier for the accused may work against them. Without a clear working knowledge of university policies (which the schools themselves may be still working out), the chances of an accused student receiving unfair treatment go up exponentially.
How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help
The one bright spot in this uncertain landscape is that school disciplinary policies allow students to hire an attorney-advisor to help guide them through the investigation. When you work with an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in student discipline matters, that attorney can give you a clear understanding of the most current rule interpretations and policies for the school, giving you a better advantage when it comes to protecting your rights. The attorney-advisor can gather evidence in your defense and procure witnesses on your behalf, so you get a fair shake in the hearing—and if need be, during the appeal process. Furthermore, having an attorney-advisor in your corner helps ensure the school stays accountable to its policies, reducing the chance of error, protecting due process, and in many cases, resulting in a much more positive outcome for the accused.
College Sexual Misconduct Advisor for South Carolina Students
If you're a South Carolina college student facing sexual misconduct allegations, your first step to protecting your good name is to talk with an experienced attorney-advisor. The Lento Law Firm has unparalleled experience with school discipline cases. For many years, Joseph D. Lento has fought for students while earning a reputation as one of the nation's preeminent experts in student discipline defense.
Don't let the ambiguity of the rules or unfair allegations cost you your academic or professional career. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.
South Carolina colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's college sexual misconduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Aiken Technical College
- Allen University
- Anderson University
- Benedict College
- Bob Jones University
- Brown Mackie College Greenville
- Central Carolina Technical College
- Charleston Southern University
- Citadel Military College of South Carolina
- Claflin University
- Clemson University
- Clinton Junior College
- Coastal Carolina University
- Coker College
- College of Charleston
- Columbia College
- Columbia International University
- Converse College
- Denmark Technical College
- Erskine College and Seminary
- Florence Darlington Technical College
- Forrest College
- Francis Marion University
- Furman University
- Golf Academy of America Myrtle Beach
- Greenville Technical College
- Horry Georgetown Technical College
- ITT Technical Institute Columbia
- ITT Technical Institute Greenville
- ITT Technical Institute Myrtle Beach
- ITT Technical Institute North Charleston
- Lander University
- Limestone College
- Medix School Fortis College
- Midlands Technical College
- Miller Motte Technical College
- Miller Motte Technical College North Charleston
- Morris College
- Newberry College
- North Greenville University
- Northeastern Technical College
- Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College
- Piedmont Technical College
- Presbyterian College
- South Carolina State University
- South University Columbia
- Southern Wesleyan University
- Spartanburg Community College
- Spartanburg Methodist College
- Technical College of the Lowcountry
- The Art Institute of Charleston
- Tri County Technical College
- Trident Technical College
- University of Phoenix Columbia Campus
- University of South Carolina Aiken
- University of South Carolina Beaufort
- University of South Carolina Columbia
- University of South Carolina Lancaster
- University of South Carolina Salkehatchie
- University of South Carolina Sumter
- University of South Carolina Union
- University of South Carolina Upstate
- Virginia College
- Virginia College in Charleston
- Virginia College Columbia
- Virginia College Greenville
- Voorhees College
- W L Bonner College
- Williamsburg Technical College
- Winthrop University
- Wofford College
- York Technical College
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your South Carolina school is handled properly and that the accused student's interests are protected from as early as possible during the sexual misconduct investigative process. One major reason is because even at colleges and universities where a finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct charges is made at a hearing, the investigation will set the stage for what the hearing panel is provided prior to a hearing (and what the hearing panel will in large part rely on at a hearing), and at schools where the finding of responsibility is made solely through the investigative process, what takes place during the investigation itself will determine whether the accused is found responsible or not responsible for college sexual misconduct charges.
Unfortunately, some students, families, and college employees make the mistake of not taking the necessary precautions as soon as possible when accused of sexual misconduct at college. Some people will mistakenly believe that if they "just explain what happened," their college or university will be fair and impartial and will arrive at the truth. In a perfect world this may be the case, but in a perfect world, sexual misconduct cases would not exist.
Fighting passionately for the future of his clients at universities and colleges throughout the nation for many years, Joseph D. Lento knows how important it is to mount the strongest defense because he understands that an accused's academic and professional future is on the line. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph Lento is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted as an attorney pro hac vice in state and federal court if needed when representing clients nationwide, and serves as a college sexual misconduct advisor to students and others in academia facing sexual misconduct investigations and Title IX disciplinary cases in South Carolina and throughout the nation. Make certain your or your student's interests are protected - Contact National College Sexual Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or by completing our online form.