Most of us would agree that no one should ever have to be a victim of any form of sexual misconduct. We can probably also agree that when someone is victimized, we as a society should do everything in our power to help them put their lives back together and find justice for what happened to them.
Finally, though, we should also be able to agree that those accused of sexual misconduct should have rights as well. Sometimes that's a harder sell.
It seems to be a particularly hard sell on college campuses these days. In fact, the federal government has actually given colleges and universities a built-in incentive to prosecute sexual misconduct cases. In their zeal, many schools go further, denying defendants basic due process rights.
As a student, if you should find yourself in the unfortunate position of being accused of such a crime, make sure you educate yourself about how your school deals with sexual misconduct. Here, we take a close look at Iowa State University's policies and procedures.
A Brief History of Title IX
When most people hear “Title IX,” they think of sports. Passed by the federal government in 1972, Title IX legislation was intended to reduce sexual discrimination and harassment at academic institutions. One way it achieved this goal is by requiring schools to provide more opportunities for female athletes.
Title IX also mandates schools investigate and prosecute instances of sexual misconduct. Those who refuse to do so risk losing out on federal funding. One problem with this policy is that it encourages schools to demonstrate their compliance by investigating cases that might not have merit and working over-zealously to go after the accused. In addition, Title IX procedural guidelines, over time, have come more and more to favor complainants at the expense of defendants.
In early 2020, the Trump administration announced it was overhauling Title IX in an attempt to correct some of the imbalances that had developed in the system. New guidelines went into effect in August of that year, and since then, schools across the country have been scrambling to develop their responses to these guidelines. The result has been chaos and confusion about how to implement the rules. The Biden administration is already in the process of trying to roll the new guidelines back, a move that only promises to complicate matters further.
Iowa State University and Title IX
A few schools sued the federal government in 2020 to prevent the revised Title IX from going into effect. Many other schools have looked for ways to get around the new rules.
Unlike their peers, Iowa State University accepted the Title IX changes, at least for the most part. Copies of the university's previous sexual misconduct policy remain up on the school's Title IX page as though at any moment they might revert back to it. However, for the moment, they seem committed to investigating and prosecuting all cases of sexual misconduct according to the federal government's current rules.
Those rules outline a clear process. When a student files a complaint of sexual misconduct with the Title IX office, the Title IX coordinator evaluates the complaint's merits and determines whether or not to investigate. If the case moves forward, the coordinator appoints an investigator. This person first meets separately with the complainant and respondent to hear both sides of the story. He or she then has 60 days in which to interview witnesses and gather any physical evidence. At the end of that 60 days, the investigator prepares a report detailing their findings.
Both sides have the opportunity to respond to the investigative report. Then it is turned over to a panel specially trained to hear sexual misconduct cases, and a hearing date is set. At the hearing, the panel reviews the evidence, hears from witnesses, and ultimately makes a determination as to responsibility. If the respondent is found to be responsible, the panel also recommends penalties.
Both sides have the right to appoint an advisor, and this advisor can be an attorney. During the hearing, advisors are allowed to cross-examine witnesses, though only the students themselves may make opening and closing statements.
The panel's decision can be appealed, but only under very specific circumstances, such as the discovery of new evidence or the demonstration of clear bias on the part of the investigator.
Justice as Defined by Title IX
Iowa State University's decision to accept the Trump administration's Title IX changes restored some rights to the accused. The administration narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and limited schools' jurisdictions. In addition, prior to the changes, defendants were not necessarily guaranteed a hearing, and when they did receive a hearing, generally weren't allowed to cross-examine witnesses directly.
Even under the new rules, some inequities remain in Title IX. For one thing, rather than using the strict standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to determine guilt, schools are only required to use the weaker “preponderance of evidence” standard. “Preponderance of evidence” asks only that the panel decide if an event is “more likely than not” to have occurred.
In addition, a determination of guilt requires only a majority vote among the panel members. That differs significantly from the typical jury trial where all jurors must agree in order to convict.
Penalties, of course, also differ from those a defendant might receive in a courtroom. Iowa State University doesn't have the power to sentence its students to jail time. Still, they can impose penalties up to and including academic probation, suspension, and expulsion, penalties that can alter the course of a student's life every bit as much as a prison sentence.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help
Schools don't always have their students' best interests at heart, especially if those students stand accused of a crime as serious as sexual misconduct. If you've been accused, you need someone who is on your side. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento specializes in college Title IX disciplinary cases and defending clients from charges of sexual misconduct. He is an expert on Title IX as well as university policy. Joseph D. Lento knows how schools will try to undermine your due process rights, and he knows how to fight schools on your behalf.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct at Iowa State University, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.