One of the most complicated aspects of Title IX investigations involve claims of sexual assault between students while attending a study abroad program. Title IX is designed to prevent sexual discrimination or harassment from limiting a student's ability to pursue their education. While these allegations largely involve incidents that occur on or near campus, actions that happen internationally could impact a student's life upon their return.
The reality of these accusations is that investigating an already difficult circumstance is made notably more challenging due to the incident occurring in another country. Undertaking an administrative hearing thousands of miles away from where an incident allegedly happened can place a major burden on the accused.
New guidance from the Department of Education could change how off-campus allegations are investigated. This goes beyond study abroad cases, as schools will now have more leeway in determining when off campus accusations do or not fall within the purview.
Changes to Geographic Jurisdiction of Title IX
The most important thing to understand upfront is that the change to jurisdictional rules is not mandatory. At no point does the new set of rules require colleges or universities to alter how they investigate off-campus incidents, nor will it prevent a school from offering assistance or other services to alleged victims. These rule changes do give schools the power to decide whether or not incidents that occur off-campus fall under their Title IX policies, though.
Some off-campus locations still require a mandatory investigation. This includes property owned or under the control of the school, including fraternity houses. However, schools will now have the opportunity to refuse to hear allegations that occur elsewhere. Under prior rules, any allegation against a current student could result in a Title IX hearing regardless of where the alleged incident occurred. The school would only need to demonstrate that the accused student's continued presence on campus would limit the accuser's ability to pursue their education to have jurisdiction.
Under the new rules, schools that wish to maintain the status quo have the ability to do so. However, these schools also have the ability to draft new policies that do not cover off-campus actions in most situations.
There is little in the way of legal precedent for whether Title IX covers allegations of sexual assault abroad. Only a handful of district courts have addressed the issue, where the outcome has been split. That said, decisions out of New York and Massachusetts point language in the statute that suggests Title IX is only directed to persons located within the United States. The language of the new rule largely follows that of the New York decision.
Regardless of the rule changes, it is likely in at least the short-term that schools will continue on with their current procedures for off-campus allegations. If you have been accused of sexual assault or harassment – whether on campus or off – you are entitled to a strong defense. To learn about your options, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento online or call (888) 535-3686 today.