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A Victim-Focused Approach to Title IX Sexual Misconduct Student Disciplinary Cases

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Mar 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

The University of Texas has taken steps to address how campus police investigate allegations of Title IX sexual misconduct and sexual involving college students.  The goal of the University is to increase successful prosecutions of alleged offenders and to reduce the trauma on victims of sexual misconduct and sexual assault.  The guide, created by The University's Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, emphasizes a victim-focused approach in cases involving sexual offenses and is being provided to the campus' approximate 600 police officers.  The guide is also being made available to other colleges and universities so that other schools can incorporate its recommendations into their approach to campus sexual misconduct and sexual assault.

The motivation behind the guide was articulated by Noël Busch-Armendariz, the director of The Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.  The director stated that the guide is the "best way" a university could respond to campus sexual assault.  The director believes that more change is needed despite recent Department of Education mandates that require schools to aggressively respond to, and arguably prosecute, claims of campus sexual assault.  Those supporting a more aggressive response contend that campus police and Title IX investigators often fail to believe sexual assault victims, and fail to aggressively investigate such matters as result.

The 174 page guide address various aspects of campus sexual misconduct including false reports, forensic interviewing, blaming the victim, college "hookup" culture, the role of alcohol and drugs in sexual assaults, myths regarding rape, neurobiology, and trauma caused by rape.  The guide also includes reasons why victims of campus sexual assault do not at times report their claims; these reasons include fear of not being believed, fear of having to testify in court at a related criminal prosecution, and embarrassment.  An excerpt of the guide regarding common rape myths follows:

  • If a girl is raped while drunk, she is at least responsible for letting things get out of control.
  • If a girl acts like a slut, she will eventually get into trouble.
  • Guys don't usually intend to force sex on a girl, but sometimes, they get too sexually carried away.
  • If a guy is drunk, he might rape someone unintentionally.
  • If a girl doesn't physically resist rape, even if protesting verbally, it can't be considered rape.
  • If the accused rapist doesn't have a weapon, you can't really call it rape.
  • A lot of times, girls who say they were raped agreed to have sex and then regret it.
  • Rape accusations are often used as a way of getting back at a guy.
  • If both people are drunk, it can't be rape.
  • If a girl initiates kissing a guy or hooking up, she should not be surprised if a guy assumes she wants to have sex.

The University's campus police director, Michael Heidingsfield, is supportive of the guide, and stated that it is important for the University's police officers to adopt an approach that focuses on the victim and is "science-based and trauma-informed."  Although the paths of campus police and criminal prosecutors often intersect, the guide does not make recommendations regarding prospective criminal prosecutions of campus sexual assault, as this is up to the discretion of prosecutors.  Nonetheless, it is standard practice for colleges and universities to not only inform victims of campus sexual assault that they have the right to pursue criminal action against the alleged perpetrator(s), but to also support the complainant in pursuing such action.

(The University's actions begs the ongoing question as to what is the proper role of colleges and universities in addressing allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault not just in Texas, but in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and nationwide.  Colleges and universities in all states remain under tremendous pressure from the Department of Education to comply with Title IX mandates.  Preventing campus rape and sexual assault is a necessary endeavor, but do institutions go too far in that campus disciplinary hearings become "prosecutions," albeit lacking the procedural safeguards afforded to a criminal defendant accused of sexual offenses? 

Findings of responsibility in student disciplinary cases involving Title IX sexual misconduct and sexual assault allegations will have profound consequences on an accused student; consequences different than if charged and found guilty in criminal proceedings, but profound nonetheless.  Disciplinary sanctions such as suspension from school, and more often the case, expulsion from school, are prospective consequences that are obvious.  If a student is fortunate enough to be accepted to another college or university after a Title IX finding against them, the student will also have to prospectively deal with how the Title IX finding will affect them at a later time regarding admission to graduate school and future employers.  For example, other colleges and universities in the case of a student transfer, graduate schools, and employers will inquire if a student has ever had any school disciplinary issues, and if so, the details regarding what ocurred.  Once an adverse Title IX finding has taken place and disciplinary sanctions are imposed, there is no avoiding this issue because a student's record will be confirmed with their respective college or university. 

Despite the fact that Title IX sexual misconduct and sexual assault disciplinary cases can have such profound negative effects, accused students are at a severe disadvantage in light of the extremely low burden of proof at Title IX campus disciplinary hearings as mandated by the Department of Education.)

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience passionately fighting for the futures of his clients. Mr. Lento represents students and others in disciplinary cases and other proceedings at universities and colleges across the United States while concurrently fighting in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, and New Jersey. Mr. Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand universities and colleges across the United States. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide.

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