When a complaint is made to a college or university alleging sexual misconduct, federal Title IX policies mandate that a school must take “immediate” and “appropriate” steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred (if a school is to remain in compliance with federal requirements that provide federal funding; which is the case at most colleges and universities). Even if a complaint is not brought to the direct attention of school authorities, a college or university is required to take steps to confirm and address any concerns. Such action is required of any school that receives federal educational funding under Title IX; whether in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or nationwide.
Although a Title IX complaint may be directly reported to school authorities, such as a resident advisor (RA) or the school's Title IX office, a college or university may also be deemed to be put on notice through other means. After a school is put on notice, and once the college or university initiates a Title IX investigation, the decision whether Title IX disciplinary action against an accused student is warranted will be based on whether the investigation in fact revealed that sexual violence created a hostile environment. Decision makers at the school that will make this determination will vary depending on the college or university involved in the matter, but will often include the Title IX coordinator, school administration, the school's attorneys, the campus police or public safety department, resident life staff members, and others in similar capacities.
Students and parents must understand that if the college or university determines that disciplinary action under the school's Title IX policies is appropriate due to a hostile environment being created as a result of sexual violence, whether the sexual violence includes sexual assault, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, or any applicable variation, the school must take “prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects” towards the alleged victim (and in a more abstract sense, the campus as a whole).
What steps will my school take if I am accused of sexual misconduct?
Colleges and universities have various methods of responding to a Title IX complaint, and much is at stake, both in the short and long-term. The accused student, also known as the “respondent,” may be placed on an “interim suspension” immediately after a complaint is made. An “interim suspension” can last for a proscribed period of time depending on a school's policies, or may last indefinitely until the Title IX complaint is addressed and resolved. Some schools will have a “pre-hearing” administrative proceeding where the interim suspension will be addressed, and a determination will be made whether the interim suspension will remain in effect pending the resolution of the Title IX case, or if it will be lifted while the case proceeds.
What is a “no contact” order in a Title IX case?
In almost all instances, the respondent student will be subject to a “no contact” order. As its name implies, the respondent will be ordered to have no contact of any kind with the alleged victim, also known as the “complainant.” The importance of the respondent having no contact of any kind with the complainant cannot be emphasized strongly enough. No contact of any kind means no in-person contact, no phone contact, no text message contact, no social media contact, no contact through third parties, and so forth. In many instances, respondents will find themselves facing of additional charges such a “Violation of a No Contact Order” or “Violation of an Interim Suspension” because they did not understand the full extent of their obligations under the no contact order.
In other instances, respondents' friends and classmates who become aware of the Title IX case will try to intervene, or even interfere in the Title IX investigation and disciplinary proceedings. Young people especially do not necessarily understand the implications of such behavior. In such instances, not only can the respondent find him or herself charged with such charges as “Abuse of the Student Conduct System,” but the respondent's friends and classmates who overstep their bounds can also find themselves facing disciplinary charges.
Ultimately, and whether it is fair or not, the buck often stops with the respondent, and that is why it is critical that a respondent not speak to friends or classmates about the ordeal unless it is absolutely necessary; even when it is absolutely necessary, an accused student should seek the guidance of his or her advisor (who must be an experienced attorney whenever possible) as to what the most appropriate course of action will be when it is necessary to involve friends or classmates who may be potential favorable witnesses for the accused.
Why am I subject to an interim suspension at my college? Why am I subject to a no contact order?
Federal Title IX policy requires that colleges and universities not delay in taking steps to protect complainants. Title IX also makes clear that a school's obligation towards its students is ongoing, and that schools should not wait to take steps to protect their students until students have already been deprived of educational opportunities at their respective college or university.
The reason that a respondent, depending on the nature of the Title IX allegations involved, may be subject to various immediate measures intended to protect the complainant is because, as above, Title IX requires colleges and universities to ensure the complainant's safety, including taking interim steps before the final outcome of the Title IX investigation. Immediate interim steps can include, for example:
- interim suspension
- no contact order
- change of housing assignment or residence hall
- change of class schedule
- loss of dining hall privileges
- loss of campus privileges
- suspension from campus activities
- any other measure deemed appropriate to protect the complainant
When will an interim suspension go into effect if I am accused of sexual misconduct? When will a no contact order go into effect?
Title IX requires that colleges and universities should take any necessary steps to protect a complainant promptly once there is notice of a sexual violence allegation. Schools are also required to provide the complainant with periodic updates on the status of the investigation.
If a school delays in responding to allegations of sexual violence or responds inappropriately, the school's own inaction may subject the student to a hostile environment, and the school would be in violation of Title IX due to its own delay or malfeasance. If this occurs, the college or university will also be required to remedy the effects of the sexual violence that could reasonably have been prevented had the school responded promptly and appropriately.
For example, if a college's or university's delay in responding to a student's complaints of sexual assault by another student causes the complainant to have to remain in classes with the respondent for several weeks and the complainant's grades suffer because he or she was unable to concentrate in these classes, the college or university may need to allow the complainant to retake the classes without an academic or financial penalty (in addition to any other remedies deemed appropriate) in order to address the effects of the sexual violence.
How will I be treated by my school if I am accused of Title IX sexual misconduct?
Unfortunately and whether it is intended or not, in many instances, a college or university will often treat the complainant as a “VIP" and the respondent as a pariah. The school's Title IX coordinator, campus police or public safety department, and other involved parties will often provide the complainant with personal contact information such as personal cell numbers to ask any questions or express any concerns at anytime, whereas the respondent will not be afforded such consideration.
A related consideration is that per federal Title IX policies, schools are expected to ensure that the complainant is aware of any available resources, such as victim advocacy, housing assistance, academic support, counseling, disability services, health and mental health services, and legal assistance, and the right to report a crime to campus or local law enforcement.
As with the special treatment that a complainant receives often at the arguable expense of the respondent in a campus Title IX case, is this appropriate? Granted, a legitimate victim of campus sexual assault is deserving or protection, but if a respondent is falsely accused, or is responsible for wrongdoing that is not egregious and necessarily deserving of such a draconian approach, should a respondent's interests be so marginalized?
Campus Title IX proceedings can be extremely burdensome for both complainants and respondents, but if a respondent has not been found responsible, and has been accused only, should a respondent also be deserving, even if only in a limited capacity, of the resources that are provided to the complainant?
When will an interim suspension end in a Title IX case? When will a no contact order end?
Although different colleges and universities have different policies as to how interim suspensions, no contact orders, and other measures will be further considered once imposed, under federal Title IX policies, if a school determines that sexual violence occurred, the school must continue to take these steps to protect the complainant and ensure his or her safety, as necessary.
Pennsylvania & New Jersey Title IX Student Defense Attorney
Because an accused student's future, both academically and professionally, is jeopardized when accused of Title IX sexual misconduct, students and parents must understand the difficult path ahead. Recognizing what adverse consequences an accused student may be subject to even prior to the completion of a school's Title IX investigation will help make a difficult process easier to bear. Most importantly, taking all necessary steps as early as possible to try to achieve the best possible outcome in a campus sexual assault case is not an option; it is an absolute necessity for there to be any chance of a favorable outcome.
Whether pursuing one's goals, at the undergraduate level, or in a graduate program such as business school (MBA), law school, medical school, and whether a local student, be it from the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Brunswick, or Newark area, or an international student for example, an accused student and his or her family must make certain their interests are represented and protected. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.