Sexually motivated offenses are all too common on college campuses. We can all agree that colleges and universities have an obligation to protect everyone who lives and works in their community but especially students. Certainly, that means providing every possible resource to victims of such crimes.
At the same time, colleges and universities have an equal obligation to protect the rights of students accused of such crimes. While we may be tempted to dismiss such rights in the name of comforting victims, to do so is to ignore one of the most fundamental tenets of American justice: that all people are innocent until proven guilty.
In an actual court of law, persons accused of sexual assault are constitutionally afforded many important due process rights designed to help make sure they are given fair and equal treatment under the law. Colleges and universities, however, aren't necessarily subject to these same processes with these same rights. Yet, the consequences for guilty verdicts are no less severe. They include, for instance, expulsion, and often this comes with a transcript notation that could make it difficult if not impossible to enroll at another school.
If you or your child should be charged with sexual misconduct, you owe it to yourself to take that charge seriously. And as one of your first responses, you need to educate yourself about campus justice.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct
For many years, the primary means for prosecuting campus instances of sexual misconduct was the federal Title IX law, originally passed in 1972. This law's original intent was to protect the rights of women in education programs by withholding federal funds from any school that refused to prosecute cases of sexual discrimination and harassment. Over time, “sexual harassment” became an umbrella term for a variety of behaviors, from unequal treatment in the classroom to stalking and date rape.
While the law's original goals were certainly worthwhile, in practice Title IX created some inequalities for those who were accused of such crimes. In particular, by tying federal funds to prosecutions, the government inadvertently created a strong incentive for schools to aggressively pursue absolutely every complaint they received.
Recognizing the problems with the Title IX system, the Trump administration, in early 2020, sought to remedy the situation with a new set of guidelines for how Title IX should be interpreted and implemented. Among other changes, these new guidelines narrowed the definition of sexual harassment, placing a greater burden on schools to prove their cases. The administration also revised Title IX procedures to guarantee defendants the right to a live hearing and the right to cross-examine witnesses.
Sexual Misconduct Allegations in the Wake of the Title IX Revisions
The federal government originally passed Title IX in 1972 because so many schools simply weren't giving cases of sexual discrimination and harassment the attention they deserved. In the almost fifty years since academia has changed: today, most institutions regard themselves as the first line of defense for women and take seriously their obligation to protect victim's rights at almost any cost.
As a result, when the Trump administration announced its Title IX rule changes, most schools saw these efforts as intrusive attempts to undermine the good work they were no doing in the field of women's rights. Rather than recognize the changes for what they were—an attempt to restore balance to campus justice—they began looking for ways to circumvent the guidelines.
To accomplish this, many schools created a new prosecution track, separate from Title IX, to address any misconduct that failed to meet what they saw as its unreasonably strict standards. As part of this new track, they created new procedures, separate from those outlined by Title IX for conducting investigations and determining guilt. As a result, many schools actually eliminated some important due process rights. Worse, they made a complicated bureaucratic system even more complicated and made navigating this system almost impossible.
How Virginia Commonwealth University Treats Sexual Misconduct Allegations
VCU’s Title IX page clearly states that, despite the government's ruling,
“VCU remains committed to addressing incidents that do not meet the narrow standards defined under the Title IX Final Rule and in maintaining a safe and non-discriminatory learning, living, and working environment for all members of the university community.”
Thus, like many of their academic peers, they now operate under two separate policies when it comes to sexual misconduct. Complaints are funneled through the new “Title IX and Sex-Based Misconduct Office,” which ultimately decides which policy to use to prosecute the alleged offense.
Under the university’s policy, formal complaints are handled through a strict set of procedures:
- The Title IX and Sex-Based Misconduct Office appoints an investigator. Both sides have an equal opportunity to be heard, to offer up witness testimony, and to present to the investigator any relevant evidence. In addition, they may submit questions to the investigator that they would like asked of witnesses, though the investigator ultimately decides whether or not to ask those questions.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator issues a Notice of Investigative Findings to both parties and the Title IX coordinator. Both parties have the right to contest these findings. In addition, if the respondent accepts a guilty finding, they have the right to contest proposed sanctions.
- Should either side contest the rulings, the Title IX coordinator then appoints a panel to hear the case. This panel is made up of trained members of the university committee and external professionals. Both parties may attend the hearing with their advisors, although the proceedings are conducted through closed-circuit video. In addition, both sides have an opportunity to ask questions of the other.
- Finally, either side may appeal the final verdict, though only under very specific conditions such as a failure of procedure.
Students found guilty of sexual misconduct face a variety of sanctions, from a loss of university-related privileges, to suspense or expulsion.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help
The good news is, Joseph D. Lento is here to help. Joseph D. Lento specializes in student disciplinary cases and has unparalleled experience defending hundreds of clients against Title IX and sexual misconduct charges. Joseph D. Lento is on your side. He will ensure your due process rights are protected and that you receive the best possible outcome.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.