Title IX in High Schools, and the Violence Against Women Act

If your child has been charged by their school with sexual misconduct, you've probably already heard someone mention Title IX. That's because that federal law is the most commonly used means of investigating and deciding allegations of harassment. Title IX is itself a complex law that can be difficult to navigate. However, Title IX isn't the only law your school is subject to in these kinds of cases. A full understanding of what you and your family are facing requires that you know not only how Title IX works but also how Title IX interacts with other laws, like the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act.

This page focuses specifically on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and its influence on Title IX investigations. It can help you prepare your defense, particularly if you're not quite clear on what your child's been accused of doing.

It's important you know, though, that you don't have to figure out all this information by yourself. In fact, trying to do it alone could put your child's entire future at risk. All laws are complex, and the laws relating to sexual misconduct can be especially hard to get a handle on. Beyond the dense language of the laws themselves, there are decades of history to consider and dozens if not hundreds of legal precedents to worry about, to say nothing of the contentious current political landscape and its impact on how the laws are enforced. Neglecting even the smallest piece of this puzzle can have enormous consequences.

So, by all means, learn all you can about what you're about to go through. The more you know, the better your odds of success. There is no substitute, though, for a qualified, experienced Title IX attorney. You can find out more by contacting the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686 or using our automated online form.

A Brief History of Title IX

As we've already mentioned, Title IX is a federal law. It was originally passed by the US Congress in 1972. Its aim was to eliminate sexual discrimination in US educational programs, including universities and high schools. That was a noble goal: school campuses could be very unwelcoming places for girls and young women in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is largely due to Title IX, for instance, that young women can study any subject they choose.

Very quickly, though, Title IX evolved in new directions, away from its original purpose. Where initially schools were asked to change their own behaviors, as time went on, they were asked to do something more difficult: create a non-discriminatory “environment.” This meant that rather than just re-writing their admission policies or disciplining teachers who created a hostile classroom environment for women, schools were required to police their student bodies. No one on campus, including students, could be allowed to interfere with a woman's right to an equal education.

At the same time, the government began to broaden the definition of “sexual discrimination.” First, that definition came to include “sexual harassment.” The definition of that term widened as well, though, so that it eventually included “sexual violence,” “domestic abuse,” and “stalking.”

Today, Title IX is most often used to investigate students, and rather than mere “discrimination,” it is applied to a range of crimes collectively referred to as “sexual misconduct.”

VAWA's Impact

A key factor in the shifts that occurred with Title IX was the passage of additional laws. As Title IX helped to provide women with more equal rights, women themselves began to point out other ways in which they were being mistreated by society. The result: more laws designed to address these other problems.

Of course, at the same time Title IX was leading to the passage of new laws, those new laws, such as the Clery Act (1990), were having an effect on the interpretation of Title IX itself.

One of these new laws was the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994. It recognized violence against women as a pervasive social problem and tried to provide several new solutions. These solutions included raising the criminal penalties for violence against women and allowing women to sue their abusers even when prosecutors refused to bring cases to trial.

Once VAWA was passed, the government began to re-evaluate Title IX. Based on the assumptions of VAWA, women needed more protection in educational environments. They shouldn't just be protected from discrimination; they should be protected from all forms of abuse, any type of mistreatment that might have gender at its root.

In fact, most school policies now mention VAWA and laws such as the Clery Act alongside Title IX as part of a comprehensive approach to all types of sexual misconduct.

Matters of Definition

VAWA has had an even more direct impact on Title IX, though. Not only did it play a role in broadening the general definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment,” but it would eventually become the literal source for those definitions.

When the Trump administration instituted what it called the Title IX “Final Rule” in 2020, it wanted to provide very clear definitions of what behaviors constituted violations of the law. To do this, it borrowed from both the Clery Act and VAWA.

Current Title IX law mentions three specific kinds of misconduct:

  • Quid pro quo by an employee
  • “Unwelcome conduct that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to a school's education program or activity”
  • Sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking

The Clery Act defines “sexual assault” as

  • Rape, whether vaginal, anal, or oral
  • Fondling
  • Incest
  • Statutory rape

VAWA uses this definition but adds explanations as to what dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking are as well:

  • Domestic violence: “violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim,” including someone cohabiting with the victim or someone who shares a child with the victim
  • Dating violence: “violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim”
  • Stalking: “Engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.”

Title IX incorporates all these definitions.

Why do these various definitions matter? Because they determine exactly which types of incidents a school must and can investigate and establish what Title IX investigators and Decision-Makers must prove in order to find your “responsible” for a violation. By the same token, then, these definitions can be crucial when developing an effective Title IX defense.

Title IX Procedures

What happens once your child is accused? The 2020 “Final Rule” established most of the procedures involved in a Title IX investigation:

  1. All school personnel must report any knowledge they have of sexual misconduct. However, only a complainant, a complainant's guardian, or the Title IX Coordinator can sign an official complaint.
  2. Once the Coordinator has instigated an investigation, they must provide you with notice. This notice must include the name of the accuser and details of the alleged incident. In addition, it must let you know that your child has the right to be considered not responsible (innocent) until proven responsible. Finally, it should also point out that you have the right to appoint an advisor to help you with the case and that this advisor may be an attorney.
  3. The Coordinator then appoints an Investigator to the case. This person meets with both parties, collects any physical evidence, and interviews any witnesses.
  4. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator creates a written report summarizing their findings. Both sides in the case have the opportunity to respond to this report before it is forwarded to the Coordinator.
  5. Next, the Coordinator assigns a Decision-Maker to review the case and decide on your child's responsibility. The decision-making process can happen in one of two ways. Your school may allow you to defend yourself at a formal, live hearing. At this hearing, you—through your advisor—can offer evidence and cross-examine the complainant and any witnesses. High schools are not required to offer a hearing, though. Instead, the Decision-Maker may meet informally with both sides to gather more information about the case. You still have the right to present evidence, though, and to submit questions for any witnesses.
  6. The Decision-Maker deliberates, basing their final decision on the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of evidence” only asks that decision-makers believe it is “more likely than not” that a violation occurred.
  7. Finally, both sides are entitled to appeal the Decision-Maker's findings to an Appeals Official. Usually, you have only a limited period of time in which to file such an appeal, and you may only file it for very specific reasons, such as:
  • Procedural irregularities
  • Bias on the part of a Title IX official
  • Discovery of New Evidence

Sanctions

Title IX does not mandate what sanctions a school may enforce on a responsible student, only that they must already have specific punishments outlined in their Title IX policies. Most schools claim to use a number of different sanctions in these cases, from verbal warnings to detention to written assignments and counseling.

The minimum sanction you should expect, though, is suspension. In most cases, the district will simply expel your child if they find them responsible.

Expulsion, of course, comes with its own set of challenges. For instance, it requires that you find some alternative means to educate your child, either another school district or homeschooling. That's never ideal for the learning process. In addition, though, expulsion typically has a number of secondary effects. Your child may have trouble enrolling in college, for instance, or finding financial aid. They may be prohibited from joining the military. If their transcript includes a notation about the nature of their offense, they may struggle to find a job. It's no wonder then that students who experience so-called “exclusionary discipline”–suspension and expulsion—are statistically more likely to wind up in jail or prison in later life.

Joseph D. Lento, Title IX Attorney

A Title IX investigation can be daunting. The very nature of the allegation is intrusive. The process of an investigation can be scary. Everything is on the line. Of course, you want to do everything you possibly can to protect your child, but the simple truth is you aren't prepared to do legal battle with your school district.

You don't have to. That's what lawyers are for. A Title IX attorney knows everything there is to know about the law and how your school district will implement it. They understand the complex history of Title IX; they're aware of the political debates that surround it. At the same time, they're practiced at dealing with school faculty and administrators. They know how to communicate effectively with your district.

Joseph D. Lento isn't just an attorney. He isn't just a Title IX attorney. Joseph D. Lento built his career defending students across the United States, just like your child, from accusations of sexual misconduct. He's dealt with simple verbal harassment charges; he's successfully defended clients from stalking allegations; he's taken on accusations of sexual assault and rape. Whether your goal is to prove your child's innocence or to negotiate a fair settlement that will let them continue their education, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands ready to help.

Most importantly, attorney Joseph D. Lento is on your side. Whatever your situation, Joseph D. Lento believes you have the right to be treated fairly. In today's political climate, schools are too quick to find students responsible and too harsh in the penalties they give out. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will fight tooth and nail to stop them.

If your child has been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct, don't wait. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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