Sexual misconduct traumatizes, hurts, and changes everyone involved in the case. It can seem quick or fleeting at the moment, but sexual misconduct always has long-lasting ramifications that affect the entire lives of both victim and perpetrator.
As such, most universities have stringent policies to protect students from sexual misconduct. In fact, the federal government has guidelines to help American universities craft their sexual misconduct policies. Title IX has been a long-standing law in the federal government, a law that influences every United States college as they adjudicate sexual misconduct cases.
If you stand accused of sexual misconduct at your school, you may have a lot of questions currently running through your head. What's going to happen? What's at stake? Is there any way that you can come out of these proceedings with your head held high and your future still bright?
Yes, you can - but you need to get to work as soon as possible. Teaming up with a skilled, smart student defense lawyer is your best chance to protect your reputation, your record, and your future.
What Is Sexual Misconduct?
As it turns out, the specific definition of sexual misconduct can vary from school to school. It's a little bit of an umbrella concept: There are lots of different actions that a school can adjudicate as sexual misconduct. You'll need to go to your school's specific resources - your code of conduct, your student handbook - to find your school's list of punishable actions.
Many colleges do consider the following actions to be punishable as sexual misconduct:
- Rape, or any nonconsensual sexual intercourse
- Object penetration
- Unwanted sexual contact or touching
- Sex with minors
- Child pornography
- Dating or domestic violence
However, this is only a general list. It's a good idea to check with your college to find the specific list of behaviors your school has decided to ban. Between the specifics of your alleged actions and your school's sexual misconduct policy, your attorney-advisor will be able to tell what your best course of action is to work towards a favorable outcome.
Does Sexual Misconduct Really Happen in Today's Colleges?
It's easy for many to believe or hope that college students won't have to experience this. After all, no parent expects that their child will commit misconduct at school. Students don't plan on these types of activities.
Unfortunately, these actions do happen at undergraduate institutions. The Association of American Universities conducted a survey in 2019 to look into the occurrences of sexual assault and sexual misconduct at United States academic institutions. Over the course of their study, the Association spoke with over 150,000 students at universities all across the nation.
The study ultimately showed that - over the sample size - there was a 13% rate of nonconsensual sexual misconduct. As the study relied on accurate reporting (and sexual misconduct often goes unreported or underreported), the actual rate is likely higher. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network also provided data in the study. According to their statistics, female college students aged 18-24 are the most common victims of sexual violence. However, any student is at risk of sexual misconduct; and, unfortunately, the rates at which sexual misconduct occurs do indicate that it's more common than expected. Every student at an American university needs to know about sexual misconduct, how to protect themselves from allegations, and what to do if they find themselves involved in an investigation of sexual misconduct.
College Disciplinary Action: The Consequences of Sexual Misconduct
You might wonder: What happens after you receive an allegation of sexual misconduct at your school?
It's not exactly something that your college orientation prepared you for, after all - and it's not something that you were planning on when you first matriculated at your college.
While the specific method of due process and types of disciplinary procedures you face will depend on your school's policies, there are several elements of investigative and adjudicative action you can expect after receiving an allegation of sexual misconduct. Here's what you should look out for:
Some type of official notice from your school. This document will launch your school's disciplinary process. It should contain the specific allegations against you as well as an overview of the next steps in your case (e.g., an invitation to a hearing, a notification regarding an investigation, or a recommendation to work with a legal advisor). If this is the first that you hear of the allegations against you, this notification may come as a nasty shock. Refrain from retaliating against your accuser, if you know who that is; refrain from reaching out to friends to discuss what's happening. While this is an understandable impulse, it likely won't do your case any favors.
An investigation into your alleged actions. Your school will likely not take the allegations against you at face value. Before considering disciplinary action or proceeding with the adjudicative process, your school will take some time to try and learn more about what happened. This may involve investigation into your personal history. Officials from the school (or agents working on behalf of your school) may reach out to your friends to get statements. If you haven't already, make sure that you're working with a student misconduct defense attorney at this time. Your legal advisor will work with you to analyze any evidence that comes out of your school's investigation. Your attorney will know what evidence may hurt your defense, and what will work in your favor. Your attorney will also be able to help guide you through any required cooperation with your school's investigation while making sure that you don't do anything that works against you in the long term.
Some type of meeting, informal or otherwise, with persons representing your school. Regardless of the specific way that your school tends to adjudicate matters of sexual misconduct, there will be a part of documented due process that allows you the chance to share your side of the story. Whether it's an informal meeting with your advisor or a hearing before a full panel of university officials, you need to treat it seriously. Anything you say during the course of your sexual misconduct adjudicative process could affect your case. If possible, bring your legal advisor to this meeting with you. However, even if your school's policies make it impossible or difficult for this to occur, make sure that you're working with an attorney anyway. Your attorney-advisor will be able to work with you to present your story in the best possible way. They will coach you through answers and prepare you to position yourself for the best possible outcome.
A determination of guilt from your university. After your school completes its investigation and after you've gone through the hearing (which may have included presentations of evidence and examination of witnesses), your school may take some time to review all of the information at hand. Within a set period of time, your school will communicate its findings. Whether your school communicates this verbally, at the end of your adjudicative hearing, or not, you should receive formal documentation notifying you of the school's decision, as well as any changes to your status at the school. This document should also contain information about your school's disciplinary procedures as they relate to your case.
An opportunity for you to appeal. If you decide that you don't agree with your university's decision, you will likely have the opportunity to appeal. This will involve more paperwork, a review of the entire adjudicative process, and a (potentially) updated decision from your school. This decision will be final. As a result, most schools don't advise attempting to appeal unless you're able to show that your school treated you unfairly during the adjudicative process. Alternatively, if new information comes to light after the hearing that could influence your case, you may also decide that you have a good basis to appeal. In any case, make sure that you're working with your attorney to make the most compelling argument possible if you do decide to appeal, as you will only have one chance.
Some type of disciplinary action from your school. After the adjudicative hearing ends, after your window of opportunity to appeal closes, nothing remains in a typical disciplinary process. All that is left involves undergoing any punitive measures that your school decided to mete out in your case. The specific punishments at stake differ from school to school. The details of your alleged actions will also influence the severity of the discipline that you face.
If you're interested in knowing the types of disciplinary measures that your school may decide to recommend, you should consult your school's sexual misconduct policies. The different types of punitive actions that a school takes will vary from school to school. However, there are certainly some common consequences that you could face.
What Is Really at Stake in a Sexual Misconduct Hearing?
If anyone tells you that there's not really much to worry about in your upcoming sexual misconduct hearing, your ears should perk up. That's a red flag. If you're a young student facing proceedings for sexual misconduct at your school, you have everything to lose.
It's a hard fact, but it's true - and that should influence precisely how hard you work, now, to mitigate your situation.
Here's what could happen as a result of your sexual misconduct adjudication processes at your college:
Your school could decide to expel you. This alone could represent years of lost tuition and lost time, time, and resources that you will never get back.
Your school could decide to make your academic and extracurricular life much less enjoyable: If your school allows you to continue on as a student, you may find that they sanction you with no-contact orders, temporary suspensions, termination of your involvement in campus jobs and clubs, or even a mandatory change in your living arrangements.
You could face a completely destroyed reputation - permanently. This is the real issue at stake, the one that might follow you for the rest of your life. Think about it: If sexual misconduct makes it to your record, the record that your school will send to any future school you want to go to, the record that you'll have to share with future employers, you may have a harder time than necessary securing future degrees or even your dream job. As someone who has been involved with sexual misconduct, you'll find that you might not be able to get internships, you won't be able to serve in the military, and you may even find that the information makes it hard to enjoy healthy relationships. There's a real stigma attached to sexual misconduct, and it can follow you for years after the adjudicative processes end.
With all of that at stake, one thing is crystal-clear: It is vital that you work to clear your name now, while it's still possible for you to do so.
Changes to Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Laws: The Effect of Past and Current Administrations
Title IX is a civil rights law established in decades past to help public schools adjudicate sexual misconduct cases.
In 2020, the law received an update. As a result, American schools rushed to implement new Title IX and sexual misconduct regulations by the fall of that year. Many schools decided to create parallel misconduct policies: One to closely mirror the federal Title IX guidelines, and one to catch any sexual misconduct cases that might not meet standards for the updated Title IX framework.
The main 2020 changes to Title IX included the following:
- Public schools in America no longer had to investigate sexual assault, misconduct, harassment, or violence cases that occurred off campus or outside of school activities or specific school programs.
- During the sexual misconduct adjudication process, in years past, the process allowed accusers to remain anonymous. As a result of the 2020 update to Title IX, accusers now have to provide their names.
- If the adjudication process includes a formal hearing, the process must include a time for each party's legal advisor to cross-examine witnesses.
These, and other ramifications of the 2020 update to Title IX, substantially changed the way that American universities respond to specific types of sexual misconduct. However, as academic institutions rushed to implement new guidelines and write new policies (during the chaos of a pandemic), a new administration prepared to influence United States legislation.
As we move forward, there are those who wonder if the Title IX guidelines will change again. After all, the new president has stated that he will address the 2020 Title IX updates, implying strongly that another update will be in the works.
However, writing and introducing new legislation takes a lot of time. It is very likely to be the case that we will have a significant period of time to get used to the 2020 updates before new laws take effect. We may not even see legislative reform; instead, we may see regulatory changes or other updates to the ways that schools implement or enforce these policies. Some experts believe that the Biden Administration may influence the way we interpret current laws, including the following aspects of Title IX:
- The strict definition of sexual misconduct;
- The right of the accused to have a fair and formal hearing;
- The right of the accused (and their counsel) to cross-examine witnesses; and
- The high requirements for clear, convincing evidence to prove misconduct on the part of the accused.
Regardless, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the current administration to see if it releases interim guidance or any other language that could affect how American colleges adjudicate sexual misconduct proceedings.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Allegations of Sexual Misconduct?
If you believe that you may be at risk for future allegations of sexual misconduct - or, indeed, if you have already received such allegations but do not want to make matters worse than they already are - there are several steps that you can take to protect your reputation before you head into a sexual misconduct adjudication process.
Some of these actions may seem small, or simply to reflect common sense; others may seem too cautious or proactive. In any case, your future self will likely thank you for acting in a smart way prior to an allegation or a sexual misconduct investigation into your past actions.
Here's what you need to know:
Do not speak with anyone about the incident or the allegations you face.
If you stand accused of sexual misconduct (or think that that may be in your future), you may - understandably - be very worried. You might want to discuss the matter with your friends or family. You may even have a mentor at school that you want to confide in.
Don't do any of this. Unfortunately, the people you trust may not, ultimately, protect you when push comes to shove. These people may also become witnesses, later, in a sexual misconduct hearing. Additionally, the facts about your sexual misconduct allegations and alleged conduct need to be presented in a very specific, protected way. If you share details up-front with people, you may not have the control you need about your story, which could end up hurting you later.
Be polite when you refuse to speak about your allegations, but be firm about it.
Do not reach out to the person who accused you of misconduct.
It might be your first instinct to speak with your accuser, to smooth things over, or to learn more about their allegations. Don't do this. Do not initiate contact with them, and, if they reach out to do, refrain from responding. Any interaction between the two of you, from here on out, constitutes material that could potentially be used in the case against you.
Review as much information as you can regarding your school's policies and procedures.
Your school's strategies, rules, and adjudicative procedures for sexual misconduct should all have supporting information in your student handbook or code of conduct. (If you're wondering where to find these documents, you should be able to access or download them from your college's website).
These documents might be long-winded and complicated, but it's important to read them now. In your school's policies, you should be able to learn all about the investigative process that you're about to face, as well as the common disciplinary procedures that your school may choose to mete out.
Even more importantly, you'll be able to familiarize yourself with your school's documented due process. Your school may experience the temptation to rush through your investigative process or adjudicate your case in a sloppy way. If you're familiar with the process as it should be, you'll have an easier time noticing if your school acts in any other way. These types of transgressions can be absolutely crucial when it comes to making an appeal later on in the process, if that ends up being something that you need to do.
Your attorney will also familiarize themselves with these documents. However, there is definite value in your knowing your rights and obligations as well. Take time now to make sure that you understand what's happening and what is likely to come.
Find and hire an experienced attorney-advisor to manage your case.
Even if you feel like you might have the skill or opportunity to argue your own case, even if you don't know if it would do any good, it's definitely time to contact a smart, savvy lawyer to help you protect your future. A student defense attorney will have direct experience helping students in your situation pursue successful outcomes. They'll be able to guide you through due process, advise you on the best strategies possible, and help you hold your school accountable to your rights.
Write down everything that happened regarding your alleged misconduct.
When you first discuss your case with your attorney-advisor, you'll need to be able to recall as much as possible so they can make informed decisions regarding your best strategy. As soon as you become aware that you'll face sexual misconduct charges, you need to take some time and document everything that happened that you can remember. Record any evidence that may be pertinent, as well, and take care not to leave anything out; the smallest things, from social media posts to text messages, could end up being crucial.
Here are a few tips that might help you get the most out of this exercise:
Start early. Writing down your recollections will be most effective while those memories are still early. This may feel odd, especially if you're documenting your experiences before you receive formal notice of allegations against you. It'll be worth it.
Concentrate on forming a cohesive, comprehensive timeline of events. If you can put together a full timeline of events surrounding your alleged actions (along with detailed information about what you were doing, and witnesses or proof if available), that would be a huge help for your defense. Again, doing this early on while the events are still fresh in your mind will allow you to provide as many details as you can. Don't leave anything out, even if you don't believe it casts you in the most flattering light: Your attorney will need to know everything that happened in order to determine your best possible strategy.
What a Seasoned, Skilled Sexual Misconduct Defense Attorney Can Do to Help
You might wonder if there's anything that you can do to change what stands before you. After all, it can feel like the system is rigged against you. It can feel like your entire college, even trusted mentors and friends, have turned against you. It might feel like it's your only option to go through this process alone.
Don't do this. You'll be making your life much harder than it needs to be. You'll find that if you team up with the right people, you'll be less confused, less depressed - and your chances of a successful outcome will skyrocket.
It's time for you to reach out to an empathetic, experienced student defense attorney. Even if your school disciplinary proceedings don't allow an attorney to represent you or speak for you, working with someone who's been through this process before will boost your confidence. Your attorney will be able to coach you through every hearing, help you draft documents and stick to deadlines, and be present as an advisor during your investigation and meeting.
You'll find that this can make a world of difference. If your school has offered to provide you with a school-employed legal advisor, don't take them up on it. These advisors rarely have the experience you need. Go the extra mile and find a legal advisor who's worked thousands of these cases, from coast to coast, with successful outcomes.
Wondering why it'll be worth it to hire an outside attorney to advise you during your upcoming sexual misconduct investigation? There are several reasons why this is the best choice you'll possibly make, including:
Up-To-Date Knowledge of the Latest Title IX Rules: Title IX and the way United States colleges implement its guidelines seem to change every few years. There are many different interpretations of these rules, ways that schools enforce them, and precedents established for upholding these rules. If you're an accused student, you'll find that there is an impossible amount of information to delve through. You'll be at a disadvantage before you walk in the door of your hearing, simply because the rules governing your case are changing, multifaceted, and complex. A student defense attorney's job is to know the most updated version of the rules clearly. Your student defense attorney will also understand every bullet point, footnote, and nuance of your school disciplinary policies so that you will understand what is before you. With such an informed advisor by your side, you'll be empowered to make the best possible choices for your future.
Knowledge Regarding The System - And How to Work Within It: While it's true that a disciplinary investigation at your school is not a criminal defense case - and that your college is not a court of law - the proceedings that lay before you will have elements of legal processes. An experienced attorney will have direct training that helps them know precisely how to interpret school policy, find loopholes, craft statements and defenses to work with that policy, and anticipate your school's strategy as it works to adjudicate your case.
The Ability to Assist With Further Steps, If Needed: In the unlikely case that you need assistance taking legal action against your school or your school files criminal charges against you, you'll need a lawyer to assist with those processes. While this probably won't happen, it's best to anticipate this, just in case. If your case does take an untoward turn, you'll already have a professional at your side who knows everything about your situation. You'll already have the defense you need, and you'll be ahead of the game - in the rare event that this does happen.
The External Authority You Need to Keep Your School Accountable: It's a sad fact that your school is less likely to pay attention to its own rules and policies if it's just you in the room to witness it. With a professional authority keeping an eagle-eyed watch over your proceedings, you'll find that your school may treat you more fairly.
The Ability, Training, and Experience You Need to Help You Prepare Strategically: If you stand accused of misconduct, you will effectively stand trial, as well. Attorneys have received specific training that positions them to go through trials in the most strategic and efficient way possible. Attorneys know precisely how to work with witnesses in the most effective way, position your evidence in the best way possible, and help you craft a coherent and consistent narrative. Others will be watching you extremely closely for lies and discrepancies. Your attorney will help you make sure that this does not happen.
The Loyalty and Confidentiality You Need to be Confident in Your Case: When you stand accused of sexual misconduct, it's going to feel very easy to feel very alone. You won't be able to confide in many of the people who have been there for you up until this point. Your attorney will be in your corner, no matter what. Your attorney will not disclose any personal information you share with them. This will not be the case if you decide to work with a Title IX advisor that is in the employ of your school. Even though it may seem like a great idea to work with someone who is already familiar with your specific school's processes, the lawyer from your school will always have first loyalty to your school (and they likely won't have the training and experience necessary to offer you the value you need). At a time where you feel completely isolated, having an experienced, skilled individual in your corner is what you need. Finding a sexual misconduct attorney to help you build your case should help you enter your investigation and hearing with your head held high.
What to Consider Before Hiring a Sexual Misconduct Student Defense Lawyer
So, you're interested in hiring an attorney-advisor to maximize your chances of success for your current or upcoming sexual misconduct investigation. Great!
In order to make sure that you find the best college sexual misconduct defense attorney possible, you need to do a little bit of vetting and groundwork to make sure that you're hiring a high-quality, hard-working, experienced, and empathetic lawyer. Not all lawyers are made the same. No two attorneys have the targeted expertise you need.
When you're looking for attorney-advisors to partner with on your sexual misconduct case, you need to look for very specific skills, qualifications, or talents. When you have your initial conversation or interview with your prospective sexual misconduct defense attorney, consider asking them the following questions to learn more about their background and how they can best help you.
How many years have you been practicing law? You want a lawyer who has many years of experience under their belt defending students who have stood in your place.
What type of case do you handle most frequently? If you're looking for an attorney to help you manage your sexual misconduct case, you're going to need a lawyer who does this—often. Look for an attorney who has worked with students nationwide through sexual misconduct cases—and has done so successfully.
How will we communicate during my sexual misconduct case? Every lawyer works a little differently. There are different expectations for every attorney and client regarding how information is shared. Think about how often you'd like to communicate regarding your case. Your prospective lawyer will also help you understand what the best practices are regarding communication to keep you in a non-confused, confident headspace. You'll want to be informed, but you'll also want to avoid being anxious.
What do you think is the most likely outcome for my case? Your prospective sexual misconduct attorney should have extensive experience in this field. They should have successfully defended hundreds of students like you from similar charges. Your misconduct attorney should be able to walk into your case and have an idea of what may happen. When you ask your attorney this question, you need to be prepared for an honest response. Your attorney will work tirelessly for you, and you'll need to be ready for whatever happens.
If you work to find an experienced, skilled, and savvy sexual misconduct advisor as early on as possible in your case, you'll be doing the best thing possible to ensure that you enjoy a successful outcome. From the beginning, your misconduct advisor will be able to help you strategize even the smallest of your steps to position yourself in a good light. Your misconduct advisor will bring years of expertise to every conversation you have and every document you draft.
It's important to realize that your future is on the line. Now is the time to invest and work hard to make sure that you're able to enjoy the bright future that you've worked hard for. Now's the time to make the best possible choice to protect your reputation and opportunities.
Joseph D. Lento is the Experienced Student Sexual Misconduct Defense Attorney You Need
When it comes to student defense, Joseph D. Lento is one of the most experienced attorneys in the nation.
If you're facing sexual misconduct charges, you need that experience. You might be scared about your future. You might be confused about what's going to happen.
Joseph D. Lento can guide you through your university's adjudicative processes and help you work towards a successful outcome. He and the Lento Law Firm have successfully managed hundreds of cases of collegiate sexual misconduct for years. At over a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels, Joseph D. Lento has aggressively defended students (and other academic professionals) who simply need a second chance.
Why is Joseph D. Lento ready to help you? The Lento Law Firm realizes that the entire future is on the line for you, whether you face fair accusations or not. He is passionate about making sure that schools do not treat students unfairly. He is ready to fight school-related injustice. He has the experience and expertise you need to hold your school accountable to justice and fairness throughout your entire adjudicative investigation and hearing.
That is what you need. Joseph D. Lento is ready to work hard for you to give you the best prospect for success - and for a future untouched by your past. Don't face your upcoming battles alone. If you stand accused of sexual misconduct at your college, it's time to bring in a professional. Contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today for help at 888-535-3686.