For students as well as the schools they attend, a single allegation of sexual misconduct can create deep ripple effects well beyond the people involved—even years after the alleged offense was committed. A Seattle High School is currently experiencing this reality firsthand as a former student recently filed a lawsuit against them over a sexual assault that occurred more than two years ago on campus.
Ironically, the perpetrator of the crime had already been convicted, having pled guilty to fourth-degree assault as part of a plea agreement. The victim, however, alleges in her lawsuit that the school did not provide enough protection for her against her assailant in an unsupervised all-gender bathroom, where the incident took place. In addition, the suit claims the school provided no further protection or support even after she went to the police—and that a faculty member even accompanied the alleged assailant to a court hearing in a show of solidarity. The school is currently not commenting on the litigation.
When the Past Comes Back to Bite
While it's not uncommon for schools to face lawsuits over sexual misconduct, the point of note with this case is how long ago the incident took place—and the fact that the case had even gone through the criminal process. This point is significant because it underscores that mistakes and missteps regarding sexual misconduct can have repercussions that emerge long after the incident itself. Every school has different policies, and every state has different laws regarding Statutes of Limitations. However, with more states eliminating the Statute of Limitations for reporting abuse and sex crimes, it's not unusual for schools also to investigate misconduct claims that occurred years before—even after the alleged victim has left the school.
If you are a student at a high school, college, or university, and someone makes an allegation that you committed sexual misconduct (whether against them or someone else), don't make the false assumption that you're “off the hook” if the person chooses not to report it at that time—or even if nothing more is said on the matter. People make decisions on their own time about reporting alleged wrongdoing, and a misunderstanding that occurred your freshman year could foreseeably come back to disrupt your education all the way into grad school if the school's policies allow for it.
The Seattle High School now facing a lawsuit may or may not have done the right thing—but the reality is that most schools are keenly aware of their potential liability and exposure when it comes to sexual misconduct on campus—not to mention their federal responsibilities under Title IX. For that reason, they are generally quick to investigate any allegation of sexual misconduct, even if the incident happened years earlier. Students who are accused of such wrongdoing often find themselves at a disadvantage when defending themselves because memories tend to fade over time.
If a previous misunderstanding or a lapse in judgment is coming back to threaten your future, don't face it alone. An experienced attorney-advisor can greatly increase your chances of a fair and favorable outcome. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.