Understanding Title IX: Date Rape Allegations

If you've been accused of date rape, and your college or university has charged you with a Title IX violation, you're likely experiencing a complex range of emotions. You may feel hurt or angry that someone you know and trusted has turned on you in this way. It would be natural to be afraid: you don't know what you're facing or what may happen to you. You may even be experiencing some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost certainly, you're feeling lost and confused.

In such a situation, it can be hard to think clearly. The big question is, what do you do now?

First, contact a Title IX attorney to represent you. You can defend yourself from the charges made against you, but you can't do it alone. The law your school will use to come after you, Title IX, is a federal law, and it can be hard to understand. Title IX investigations and prosecutions resemble police investigations and court cases, but there are significant complications that only a skilled Title IX lawyer knows how to deal with. This is not a job for the bus bench lawyer downtown.

You're also facing very serious consequences. Your school can't send you to jail; only a judge a jury can do that. There is a high bar to clear in order to press criminal charges, and the standards for evidence are high, so that is less likely than you might think. However, your school can very easily turn your life upside down, with little oversight, a lower standard of evidence, and fewer rights and protections. In short, you need help from a professional.

Once you've contacted a Title IX attorney, your next job is to learn as much as you can about Title IX and prepare yourself for what you're about to go through. That's where this guide comes in. We can't make this accusation disappear, but we can help you better understand what's happening to you. And once you've got a firm grasp on the situation, you can begin to re-establish some control over your life. That's the first step to an effective defense.

First Things First

You've hired a Title IX lawyer. Now what?

There are things you can do to prepare for your case, and we'll get into those a little later. Most immediately, though, you must take care of yourself. The stress of a Title IX investigation can build up fast before you even realize it's happening. Create a strategy now for keeping your sanity.

  • Trust your attorney: You hired an attorney to take care of your case. Trust them to do this. Of course, they'll need help from you as the case goes along. You'll need to write out a complete description of what happened. Your attorney will probably ask you to come up with a list of potential witnesses. At some point, you'll need to talk to the Title IX investigator, and you'll participate in a hearing. You can't do any of these things effectively if you're in panic mode, though. Let your lawyer carry the burden of the case. That's why you have them.
  • Rely on your support network: You want to limit who knows about your case, but it's essential to have some people in your life you can talk to about what you're experiencing. This could be family; it could be one or two trusted friends. One way or another, you need some people around you who can offer encouragement and who can listen when you need to vent.
  • Consider counseling: Therapy can be another important place to express your feelings. In addition, a counselor can often suggest helpful strategies for dealing with the stress you'll inevitably encounter as you go through the Title IX process.
  • Don't contact your accuser: In general, you should limit who you talk to about the case to your most trusted advisors. Don't talk to the school, for example, without your attorney. Absolutely, don't try to contact your accuser. This can be difficult advice to follow. You had a relationship with this person. You may even have loved them, and feelings like those are hard to let go of. It can be tempting to believe that you could straighten everything out if you could just talk to them. Unfortunately, it's too late for that. You must think about yourself now and protecting your reputation and your future.
  • Comfort yourself: A date rape accusation, a Title IX investigation—these are traumatic events. Do the best you can to keep the rest of your life as normal as possible. Go to classes, visit the gym, get pizza with friends. When you can, give yourself extra comforts. Maybe playing the piano makes you feel better or watching old movies. Perhaps you relax when you're out for a run. Do healthy things that will help you keep your stress at bay.

What is Title IX?

Once you have a strategy for taking care of yourself, take some time to learn a bit more about just what's happening to you.

If you've been accused of date rape, your university is likely investigating it as a violation of Title IX. Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 and originally intended to curb sexual discrimination and harassment in US education programs. Schools weren't exactly welcoming places for women in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the law played an essential role in undoing many institutional biases. Title IX ensured colleges couldn't bar women from attending; it guaranteed that professors couldn't mistreat women in the classroom.

However, over time, Title IX has grown and expanded. It now covers far more than simple discrimination. Hate speech is covered by Title IX, for example. So are far more egregious crimes like stalking, sexual assault, and date rape. Any behavior motivated by a victim's sex that might interfere with that victim's right to an equal education is treated as educational discrimination under the law.

Schools must enforce Title IX, or they risk losing their federal funding. That creates a built-in incentive for colleges and universities to investigate virtually every complaint they receive, no matter how unfounded a complaint might seem. In fact, most schools don't just investigate. They prosecute as well and do everything in their power to ensure accused students are convicted and expelled.

Over the years, those tasks have become easier. Unfortunately, in addition to expanding the definition of “discrimination,” the federal government has also systematically stripped defendants of their due process rights in Title IX cases. This makes it difficult for the accused to receive fair hearings. Many investigators, for example, start from the premise that you are guilty. Schools aren't obligated to apply the standard “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” and they can convict you without a unanimous verdict.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of Title IX is that it isn't a fixed law. In fact, in recent years, the Title IX guidelines have been re-written every time a new presidential administration is elected. While the Trump administration tried to restore some rights to the accused, those protections might not last under a new administration. It's impossible to know what other changes the law may go through over the next several months or years. That's one reason why you must hire an attorney who understands the law. Only a Title IX attorney knows the law's history, knows how to read the political landscape, and has experience adapting to the law's frequent changes.

Where Did this Accusation Come From?

One of the most important questions you may have at this point is why you've been accused of date rape. How is it that someone you cared about, someone you may have loved, has decided to point the finger at you?

The truth is you may never really know. There are a few explanations, though, that are common.

Hurt Feelings: When you're in a relationship, it can be hard to imagine that anything could ever come between the love the two of you feel for each other. You spend all your time with this person; the two of you are close, even intimate; you trust them implicitly. Relationships do simply run their course, though, and no matter how perfect things may have seemed before, endings can get very messy. In your hurt and anger, both of you may make all kinds of accusations about one another. Most of these will be on the level of “you didn't pay enough attention to me” or “you never liked my friends.” However, occasionally, one side will go too far. Sometimes a person's feelings can become so confused they may come to believe they've been “abused.” In fact, someone who is angry enough can be driven even to allege they were raped.

Misunderstandings: We humans don't always communicate as effectively as we might. If you've ever had an argument over a text message, you may wonder how we manage to communicate with one another at all. Conversations about sex present unique problems. Most of us struggle when it comes to talking about our intimate lives. We may be inexperienced or embarrassed. We have trouble saying exactly what we mean or making our feelings clear. It isn't surprising, then, that misunderstandings over sex are common. Obviously, “no” means no. What one partner says to the other, though, isn't always so black and white.

Regret: Regret can be a powerful emotion. We've all done things we were sorry for later, things we wish we could somehow go back in time and undo. For some of us, that desire is so strong that we may revise what happened to us in our own minds. It turns out one of the things many of us regret is sex. According to one scientific study, for example, at least 26% of all men and 50% of all women say they've consented to sex they didn't really want at least once. It's easy to see how a day or a week later—maybe once a relationship has ended—a person might manage to convince themselves that a sexual encounter they weren't 100% sure about having was forced on them. Feeling regret, though, can't alter the facts.

Whatever the reason behind the accusation, once you've been accused of date rape, your school will do everything it can to convict you. You need an attorney who understands Title IX.

The Title IX Process

From the outside, the Title IX process appears relatively straightforward. It doesn't seem all that different from the kinds of investigations and court cases you may have seen on shows like Law and Order. The keyword here, though, is “seems.”

Every school has a Title IX officer in charge of responding to accusations of sexual misconduct. If someone has accused you of date rape, the first thing that will happen is this officer will decide about whether or not to proceed with an investigation. Under the threat of losing federal funding, schools almost always move forward, and you should expect they will in your case as well.

The Title IX officer will then assign an investigator to investigate the case. This investigator will interview both you and your accuser. In addition, collect any physical evidence, and interview any potential witnesses to the alleged crime. The investigator usually has between 45 and 60 days to complete their investigation and submit a full written report to the Title IX Officer. Both sides in the case then have ten days to comment on this report and suggest any necessary revisions.

Under current Title IX guidelines, both sides in the case have the right to a live hearing, though either side may request this hearing take place over closed-circuit video. Once the Title IX Officer has received the investigator's report, they will set a date for that hearing. They will also select one or more decision-makers to hear the case and decide on your guilt or innocence. Most schools use a three-member panel drawn from a pool of students, faculty, and administrators who have received some training in the school's judicial procedures.

The hearing panel will hear the case in its entirety. Though they have access to the investigative report, they cannot rely solely on this report in making their decision. Both you and your accuser have the right to call witnesses and present evidence. While you must make your own opening and closing statements, your advisor can handle all the other aspects of the case, including witness examinations and cross-examinations and raising objections on your behalf.

At the end of the case, the panel will deliberate and come to a decision. If they believe you committed date rape, they will find you “responsible.” If not, they will dismiss the case against you. Both sides have the right to appeal the verdict, but only under very narrow circumstances such as new evidence or the demonstration of clear bias in the Title IX procedures.

If you are found guilty, the school will assign you a punishment. They may list several possible sanctions in the student conduct handbook. In reality, if you're found guilty of date rape, you can expect to be expelled. Expulsion in itself can be a traumatic event. You've invested time, money, and emotion in your college career, and now you must walk away from those. However, beyond this initial trauma, your expulsion could follow you for the rest of your life. For instance, if you're expelled from a state school, you may automatically be barred from attending any other state school. Many schools also include a transcript notation explaining the exact reason for your expulsion. That notation can keep you from transferring anywhere else.

An Uneven Playing Field

It turns out that when it comes to justice, there are many subtle differences between what happens in the real world and what happens on college campuses. Those differences can make a Title IX allegation especially difficult to defend.

Under Title IX, you haven't been accused of committing a crime. You've only been accused of violating school policy. That means your school isn't obligated to provide you the same rights you'd have if you were dealing with real police and prosecutors.

To begin with, the school has a clear incentive to find you guilty. While they may put forward the illusion that they are a neutral party, they are anything but. If they don't investigate you, for example, they risk losing their funding. In addition, the law itself puts the burden of proving the accuser's allegations squarely on the school's investigator. That is, their job isn't to “find the truth,” but rather to prove your guilt. Worse, the same school that investigates you then serves as your judge and jury. There are obvious reasons why we don't allow police officers to judge the cases they're investigating in the American criminal justice system. That would be an apparent conflict of interest. Yet, that's precisely how Title IX works. Your school accuses you; your school investigates you; your school decides whether you're guilty.

In addition, schools are under no obligation to find you “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” That's the standard required in a court of law, but at a Title IX hearing, the panel uses a different standard, the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Under the “preponderance of evidence,” decision-makers must only decide whether an event is more likely than not to have occurred. Defense attorneys frequently refer to this as the “fifty percent plus 1” standard since it means panel members only need to be 51% sure of your guilt to convict you. 51% leaves a lot of room for doubt.

There are other protections in place when you're tried in court for a crime like date rape. For instance, you can only be convicted by a unanimous verdict. If even one juror on your case believes you're innocent, you can't be found guilty. In contrast, only a simple majority of your Title IX hearing panel—two out of three individuals—must agree to convict you.

Finally, the American legal system allows you to make multiple appeals if you've been found guilty of a crime, and it will enable you to make such appeals on many different grounds. When it comes to Title IX, your only option is to appeal the verdict to the university's president or provost. Here again, you're essentially making your appeal to the very same institution that investigated and convicted you. It would be a rare administrator indeed who would be willing to overturn a conviction decided on by members of his own school. It simply doesn't happen.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has Unparalleled Title IX Credentials

At this point, you may be thinking, “this situation seems hopeless.” Far from it. The charges are serious, and the deck is certainly stacked against you. However, a skilled Title IX attorney knows how to protect your rights and get you the resolution you deserve.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience defending clients across the United States just like you from accusations like date rape. He knows Title IX law and how to use it to your benefit. He also knows how colleges and universities operate. Joseph D. Lento can cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make sure you're treated fairly.

Here's what else Joseph D. Lento can do: if you should lose your case, he and his team can file a federal suit against the school on your behalf. Over the last decade, U.S. courts have begun to recognize that colleges and universities regularly violate students' rights in Title IX cases. As he's fighting to win your Title IX case, Joseph D. Lento will also be keeping a record if your school mistreats you. That can then become the basis of your lawsuit, a lawsuit that will allow you to restore your good name and get your life back.

If you've been accused of date rape and face a Title IX investigation, don't wait for your school to act. Act first. Protect yourself. 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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