Here's the hard truth: if you're a student accused of sexual misconduct, you face an uphill battle. Our society has zero patience for men right now, and if you've been accused of harassing, let alone assaulting a woman, it won't be easy proving your innocence. Nowhere is that truer than on college campuses.
Maybe you've seen the posters up in the library, the ones that say one in five college women will be sexually assaulted. Or perhaps you've come across fliers advertising screenings of documentaries like “The Hunting Ground.” Of course, there's nothing wrong with reminding students to be safe. Schools put up posters about the dangers of drunk driving all the time. But while drunk driving posters target alcohol as the enemy, sexual assault posters target men. In doing so, they create an atmosphere of paranoia, distrust, and anger, all directed squarely at the school's male population.
In that kind of atmosphere, it's hard for men to get a fair shake when it comes to criminal justice. Women become anxious about the men around them, and that can lead to misunderstandings. School officials are on heightened alert and over-zealous about prosecuting accusations. Investigators and hearing committees, eager to prove to the community that they're tough on sexual misconduct, will convict students on the flimsiest of evidence.
How did we get to this place exactly?
That's a good question. An even more important one is what do you do if you find yourself caught up in this mania?
A History of Sexual Misconduct on Campus
To be fair, colleges and universities have something of a checkered past regarding how they've treated women, who for decades schools resisted letting in at all. Once they did, they made it as difficult as possible for women to thrive. Given this situation, the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972 was a giant step in the right direction. Title IX encouraged schools to take sexual discrimination and harassment seriously and threatened to withhold federal funding from any institution that refused to do so.
After fifty years of Title IX, however, circumstances are different now. Women are no longer second-class citizens in America, and universities are now among the most forward-thinking spaces in this country, bastions of liberalism and feminism. Today, Title IX serves less to protect women than to demonize men.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Title IX is the government's mechanism to enforce it: federal funding appropriations. No school wants to risk its funding, which creates a built-in incentive for a school to pursue accusations as aggressively as possible. So, while colleges and universities should be neutral parties, blind arbiters when it comes to justice in such cases, instead, they have an obvious stake in the outcome. Rather than protecting all their students, regardless of gender, they have developed a clear bias against males.
A Cultural Feeding Frenzy
The issues inherent in Title IX have only been exacerbated by our current cultural situation, especially the “Me Too” movement. Again, no one would ever suggest that women don't deserve fair and equal treatment, that they shouldn't be safe from harassment and intimidation. The problem, especially from a justice standpoint, is that when the pendulum swings so far in the opposite direction, a bias develops in how males are treated.
The media understands a cultural shift has happened and is anxious to capitalize on it by creating content that highlights the dangers women face and too often exaggerating those dangers. Hulu's hit series, “The Handmaid's Tale,” offers a powerful indictment of religious fundamentalism and a disturbing vision of what might happen if allowed to run rampant. But the show also invites us to forget that it is merely fiction, a dystopian vision of a nightmare future and not a picture of reality. Caught up in our outrage over Offred's treatment in the story, we can be tempted to view all men with suspicion.
This pop culture emphasis on the plight of women has further encouraged schools to assign males a particular role as the natural aggressors, an ever-present threat to women, their rights, and their safety. Not only are female students now more alert to possible sexual misconduct, but the schools themselves are so anxious to impress their communities that they neglect their responsibility to protect all, not just some, of their students.
Where Are We Now?
How does this male bias play out in actual practice? Title IX lays out clear procedures for how colleges and universities should investigate and prosecute accusations of sexual misconduct. Sadly, these rules demonstrate just how biased the system truly is.
To begin with, every school has a Title IX officer or coordinator who oversees such cases. Right away, this sets this crime apart as unique, deserving of particular attention. Typically, this officer, and this officer alone, decides whether to pursue cases or not when one student makes an allegation against another.
Before making this crucial decision, though, the coordinator is tasked with extending help to the “victim.” This help includes counseling, medical treatment, course adjustments. None of these services are offered to the male “perpetrator.”
If the coordinator decides to proceed with the allegation, they appoint an investigator to look into the matter. This investigator gathers physical evidence but also interviews both sides in the case and any witnesses. While most schools tell you that they make every effort to keep the case from going public, this process makes that promise a difficult one to keep. Once an accusation of sexual misconduct goes public, it can be devastating not just to the accuser but to the accused as well. Few crimes in our society carry the stigma associated with sexual offenses, and in the age of the internet, an accusation, even one that is entirely unfounded, can haunt an accused person for the rest of their life.
The accused does have some rights. Under Title IX, both parties are entitled to choose advisors, and those advisors may be attorneys. In addition, both sides are entitled to a hearing and to cross-examine witnesses at that hearing.
However, the accused doesn't have certain other rights that we typically take for granted in this country. A university hearing isn't the same as a court of law and isn't required to abide by the same rules. In a court of law, for instance, a person must be proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Title IX only requires that the events “are more likely than not” to have occurred. In addition, where defendants at trial can only be convicted if a jury is unanimous in finding them guilty, a university hearing requires just a simple majority of the panel to convict.
Finally, while a comprehensive appeals process exists in the American justice system, students convicted of sexual misconduct at their school only have recourse to the university provost or president. Only this single individual can overturn a verdict and only under very specific circumstances:
- The clear demonstration of an investigator or panel member's bias
- New evidence
- Procedural error
As you might expect in our current climate, school officials aren't especially eager to overrule a hearing panel's decision. In short, students essentially have no concrete way of appealing a verdict.
Part of the reason Title IX and colleges can get away with ignoring defendants' rights so blatantly is that “college life” isn't seen as equivalent to “life.” The argument goes something like this: a university panel can't sentence you to jail, so your rights don't need to be protected the way they are in a court of law.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that the findings of a college hearing can have serious consequences for your real life. In fact, such a hearing may be more consequential than facing any other form of justice, and the penalties you face may be more severe than going to jail.
While colleges and universities will tell you that there is a range of penalties for sexual misconduct, from “removal from housing” to “mandated counseling,” in actuality, the base penalty is suspension. In fact, most often, the assigned penalty is expulsion.
What does expulsion mean exactly? It primarily means you can't continue at the school where you were convicted. Often, though, schools include a transcript notation explaining the precise reason for your expulsion. A notation like that makes it virtually impossible to transfer to another school. Your college education could be over. As we all know, without a college education, your employment prospects are limited.
A guilty verdict in such a case – a guilty verdict based on a single investigator's evidence, a finding that the crime is “likely to have occurred,” and a majority vote by a panel of faculty and students – can ruin the rest of your life. And that doesn't consider the way the accusation may follow you on the internet, even if you're ultimately found innocent.
At this point, you may be feeling overwhelmed by what you are facing. That's a reasonable reaction. The struggle you face will not be easy.
You can deal with this situation, though. You can prove your innocence and reclaim your life. What do you do? How do you begin?
- First, take a deep breath and exhale. You are a human being. Your side of the story does matter. And you are a bright young student. You have the skills to deal with this accusation.
- Rely on close friends and family. Don't try to handle this situation alone. From an emotional standpoint, you need people in your corner to remind you you're a good person and that you don't deserve to be treated as you are probably being treated. Find trustworthy individuals you can talk to.
- Limit what you say about the situation. While you may want to tell two or three people what's happening, you should avoid telling anyone beyond that. For one thing, talking to others might be seen as an attempt to influence the case. For another, the more people who know about the accusation, the more likely the accusation is to follow you even if you are eventually found innocent.
- Don't contact your accuser. Under no circumstances should you make any contact with the accuser, directly or indirectly. This means you shouldn't try to “work the situation out” on your own. You shouldn't ask a friend to talk to them. You definitely shouldn't make social media posts to or about the person.
- Contact Attorney Joseph D. Lento. He Knows Title IX
Finally, and most importantly, if you find yourself accused of sexual misconduct, call a qualified attorney immediately. You're a student. You should be doing student things, not spending all your time defending yourself against a spurious accusation.
As you should understand by now, a sexual misconduct case at a university is a serious matter. The consequences are serious. The rules and procedures can be confusing. And the school is not on your side. Not even a little. You need someone who is.
Don't just contact any attorney, though. You need someone who knows Title IX inside and out, someone who understands how colleges and universities operate. You need attorney Joseph D. Lento. Attorney Lento built his career defending students just like you from sexual misconduct charges. He's empathetic and knows what you're going through. He's defended hundreds of these cases across the United States. Finally, Attorney Lento is a dogged, determined fighter. He'll make sure you get all the rights you're entitled to, and he won't give up until you get the very best outcome in your case.
If you are accused of sexual misconduct, don't wait. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm now at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.