Electronic Communications and Title IX

Established in 1972, Title IX was intended to address sexually-based discrimination in U.S. educational institutions. Compliance is required for remaining eligible for federal education funding. Among the most serious violations are rape, battery, and other acts of sexual violence committed against the will of a victim. Acts of sexual harassment may be committed either verbally or nonverbally and place the victims in a hostile educational environment, such as by making slurs or promoting false stereotypes.

Discrimination may involve any attempt to prevent someone from participating in programs or impede access to benefits based on someone's gender or sexual orientation. Other examples of violations include making inappropriate sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Title IX violations are typically assessed in a hearing that applies a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. If the claim of misconduct is proven, the student will likely be suspended or dismissed from the institution.

Parties are typically permitted to choose an advisor that will assist and support them in hearings and other Title IX proceedings. Those who are the subject of allegations related to sexual misconduct are strongly encouraged to retain a seasoned lawyer to serve in this critical role. An attorney-adviser can help you with the interpretation of the institution's unique guidelines, to ensure your rights are protected, and to have you sufficiently prepared to deliver clear statements and confidently respond to questions.

Forms of Electronic Communication

Electronic communications may be described as when any data or information such as signals, writing, or images that are delivered, exchanged, or transmitted using some form of electronic media. The information may be carried via a wired or wireless system. The most common examples include:

  • Text messaging usually is conducted through a user's mobile service provider or instant messaging, chat-style communication via the internet in real-time.
  • Electronic mail (email): A basic method of electronic communication over a network typically through a mail server or webmail interface
  • Social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter
  • Video chat that uses cameras allowing the users to see one another
  • Blogging is communication that involves updates posted to a forum that allows for easy sharing and commenting

Recent data suggests that more than 90% of teenagers and nearly 100% of those enrolled in colleges and universities access the internet each day. More than 85% of college students also have a social media account or access another similar forum for electronic communication.

Sexual Harassment, Abuse, or Exploitation Using Electronic Communication

Sexual exploitation is a form of harassment that may involve posting or otherwise disseminating explicit or sexual photos or videos depicting someone without their consent. In today's digital environment, this type of cyber abuse or misconduct can result in reputation harm and significant humiliation. Some of the related misconduct includes cyber-bullying, sexual extortion, or “revenge porn.” Student victims may stop going to their classes, avoiding any social activities, battle depression, and more.

Improper Use of Electronic Communication Devices

The majority of institutional Title IX guidelines now reference misuse of an electronic device. Smartphones today could potentially be used by a perpetrator to take photos or capture inappropriate video footage of someone acting with the presumption of privacy. Victims of cyber-type abuse tend to be younger people who are increasingly experiencing psychological problems as a result.

Electronic Communication Devices in Sexual Assault

Evidence obtained from mobile electronic communication devices can be particularly useful in alleged sexual assault cases where the parties have opposing accounts of what occurred. For example, a series of text messages may provide a timeline of events surrounding the incident. This type of evidence is particularly accurate, reliable, and authentic. The evidence is verifiable and offers a reasonable certainty of the identity of the party communicating, the exact time, and in many cases, the geographic location of the individual at the time.

Institutional Responsibility for Investigating Online Misconduct

Schools now have been tasked with clarifying if and when online postings or other misconduct such as cyber harassment is committed outside their scope of control. This may include acts that were not associated with the school's networks, sites, or email accounts.  Schools across the United States have Title IX policies that are fundamentally the same, however, when it comes to alleged misconduct involving electronic communications whether made on or off-campus and whether such communications are made over school networks or are made independent of the school networks.  Even at schools that have more generalized policies, such acts are most often subject to the school's institutional policy if they “cause a substantial on-campus disruption” or occur “in the context of an educational program or activity” or create a recurring problem in the environment. 

Experienced Title IX Attorney Represents Students in Disciplinary Proceedings

Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience representing college students faced with allegations of violating Title IX. He strives to safeguard your right to due process and serves as an advocate for your best interests. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for assistance.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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