There is no doubt that sexual assault is an issue on college campuses. We've all heard about some of the most egregious cases: the Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted a woman outside a fraternity house; the three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape by an exotic dancer; and the Rolling Stone article about a student who fraternity members supposedly gang-raped at Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Virginia. But once a student makes an accusation, is your reputation tarnished forever?
We've all heard about the Duke lacrosse players, but do you remember that the rape accusations were false, and the players sued Duke University? Did we hear that UVA ended up paying Phi Kappa Psi more than a million dollars after the university suspended the fraternity over fictitious accusations? An accusation doesn't mean that a student is guilty, but there's no doubt that the allegation is life-changing and tarnishes the reputation of someone who should be presumed innocent.
So, if someone has accused you of sexual misconduct at school, what do you do? What can you tell people? And what does any of this mean? On this page, we'll try to walk you through a Title IX complaint, the federal legislation that requires federally funded schools to investigate and remediate allegations of sexual assault. We'll also talk about what you can say to friends, professors, and loved ones after a Title IX complaint and what you should and shouldn't do in the aftermath.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prevents discrimination in educational institutions. It applies to kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, as well as colleges and universities that are federally funded. Congress passed the legislation as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX"), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. The law states:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
While the law is relatively brief, court cases and regulations greatly expanded its scope over the last 30 years. While Title IX originally covered things like discrimination in school admissions, access to benefits, employment, athletics, and even the treatment of pregnant women, Title IX now also covers sexual misconduct such as assault and harassment. If a school knows or should have known about sexual misconduct, it is required to investigate and remediate the situation.
In 2011, 16 Yale University undergraduate students sued Yale arguing that the school had a sexually hostile environment and failed to respond to sexual harassment concerns by students adequately. Later that year, the Obama administration issued guidance for Title IX, stating that it was schools' responsibility "to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence." In the wake of hundreds of lawsuits from students claiming universities weren't remediating sexually hostile environments, schools began to take a much harder line against people accused of sexual misconduct on its campuses and engage in more extensive investigations. In some cases, schools have kicked students off-campus or expelled them from schools altogether, sometimes before even making a final decision about a Title IX complaint.
Students Accused of Title IX Sexual Misconduct
Being accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX can become a nightmare for students and their parents. If someone accuses you of sexual misconduct, it's essential to understand how serious this charge is. Don't underestimate the legal consequences of a Title IX misconduct complaint because it can also lead to criminal charges. There are three possibilities a student may pursue if they believe they are the victim of sexual misconduct. They can file a Title IX sexual misconduct complaint with the school, file criminal charges with the police, and pursue civil litigation against you.
Aside from the possibility of criminal charges, you may also have to deal with the charges becoming public on campus. Your friends, professors, and school administrators may disappoint you. The campus newspaper may report the allegation, and the university may publish it on your university website. Even if the university doesn't use your name, people may figure out who you are. Your accuser may post about the accusations and you on social media. Your friends may distance themselves as they hear about the allegations. It's also common for schools to kick the accused off of sports teams, out of fraternities or sororities, and out of campus housing.
Possible Sanctions for Guilty Verdict
You should also take a Title IX sexual misconduct allegation seriously because of the severe consequences of a guilty finding.
If you are found guilty of misconduct, in determining a sanction or punishment, the school must consider:
1. how to enforce the school's code of conduct in the best way;
2. the impact of separating you from your education; and
3. whether the sanction is a "proportionate" response to the violation.
Whether a punishment is proportionate and fair, considering the allegations, is a subjective determination. Schools interpret this is many different ways. Their perception of you will also affect any possible punishment. For example, when Brandeis University found a student guilty of sexual assault in 2014, it punished the student with a warning and sensitivity training. But in 2017, Purdue expelled three football players for sexual assault. The school has almost complete discretion to determine your punishment.
Penalties for a Title IX violation can include:
· A written or verbal warning
· Suspension for a period of time
· Expulsion from school
· Revocation of credits or your degree
· Loss of scholarship or grants
· No contact orders
· Expulsion from campus housing
· Loss of tenure for employees
· Loss of job for employees
· Mandatory counseling
· Changing your schedule or classes
· Changing your dorm or living arrangements
· Requiring a formal apology
· Permanent notation of sexual misconduct on your transcript
It's important to remember that your school's determination of guilt or innocence may not be the end of the matter. You may also face future criminal charges or a civil suit from your accuser. If you're found guilty of criminal charges, you could also be required to register as a sex offender.
Dealing with School Administrators
First, it's important to remember that you have rights. Recent revisions to Title IX regulations ensure that you are entitled to a live hearing, to see the evidence against you, and to be allowed to cross-examine witnesses through an attorney or trusted advisor. It's always a good idea to consult an attorney experienced in handling Title IX cases. An attorney can ensure your rights are protected and that you receive the due process to which you are entitled.
· Do not trust school administrators. They can use anything you say against you in the adjudication of your complaint. You should also avoid using your campus email. Assume that the school likely has access to any email you send or receive.
· You also should never speak to school officials by yourself. Being completely open and honest with school officials can be a double-edged sword. You want them to believe that you have nothing to hide, but school officials could use anything you say against you in a school adjudication or criminal court. Many states have no statute of limitations for sexual assault, so criminal charges could come at any time. Consult an attorney about whether or not you need the school's permission to record any meetings you have with officials.
· Insist that you know the purpose of any meeting with school officials before you attend. You should also know any details of the allegations against you before meeting with school officials. If they refuse to provide information about a meeting or the accusations, get your attorney or advisor involved immediately and ensure that you document any refusals in writing.
How Do I Explain This to Everyone?
You don't owe anyone an explanation, but it can certainly feel like you do. Proceed with caution, and if you're ever unsure about what you can or can't say, talk to an attorney. Here are some tips to get you through some of the awkward situations you are likely to encounter at school and at home.
Assemble a Supportive Team
First, tell your parents about the allegations. This may be difficult, but they are the people most likely to be supportive at this time. Your parents can help you find an experienced attorney, and they can help you find a therapist if you need an outlet to discuss what you are going through.
1. Don't Contact the Accuser.
You could be subject to a no-contact order and violating that order can subject you to more charges. Even if your accuser tries to initiate contact, you should not respond. They may be trying to get you to incriminate yourself, and the school and your accuser can use anything you say against you.
2. Don't Try to Explain the Charges.
You should not discuss the charges or circumstances that led to the allegations with anyone other than your parents and your lawyer. But you may also feel that explaining the charges to your friends, professors, or other college community members will demonstrate your innocence. Resist the urge to explain. While it may feel uncomfortable, the school can use anything you say against you.
When a student makes accusations of sexual misconduct by another student or an employee, the school is required to engage in a comprehensive investigation. They will interview you and the accused as well as other students and any potential witnesses. They may interview your friends and your teachers and take statements and collect evidence. As a result, be careful what you say to anyone other than your attorney about the allegations.
3. Don't Apologize.
Don't apologize to anyone concerning the charges, particularly when meeting with school officials. School officials could see apologizing as an admission of guilt. Similarly, don't refer to the incident that led to the charges as a "misunderstanding." That could also be twisted against you by college officials.
4. Don't Discuss Details on Social Media.
On January 18, 2015, a young man named Brock Turner, a swimmer at Stanford University, was caught assaulting a woman outside a frat house. Part of the evidence presented at his trial was a photo of the woman's naked breasts that he took at the time of the assault and then sent to his friends via the app Group Me. The prosecution also presented posts from social media showing Turner as a high school student with a hash pipe and a bong after he claimed he'd never used drugs before entering college.
While it can be easy to dismiss warnings about social media by thinking, "I would never do something that stupid," or, "I'm not guilty so I don't need to be careful," if someone accuses you of sexual misconduct, you must be wary of anything you post. You should never discuss charges on social media and its best to close all of your social media accounts. Friends could be reporting back anything you say and the school could use anything you post against you in your school matter. Your posts can also be used against you if you face criminal charges or a civil suit in the future. All of your social media could be discoverable if your accuser later brings a civil lawsuit against you.
5. Hire an attorney.
Don't try to handle this yourself. While it may feel like you can ignore a sexual misconduct allegation if you know it's not true, don't do it. This is a serious charge that can have long-term consequences for your education, your career, and even your liberty. Remember that you could still face criminal charges or a civil suit, particularly if you don't vigorously defend yourself. An experienced attorney can ensure that you know the details of the accusations and the evidence against you and can ensure that the school provides the due process to which you are entitled.
If you or a loved one are facing Title IX misconduct charges, it's essential to get the guidance of a skillful advisor with experience and success in handling Title IX complaints. Attorney Joseph Lento has handled a vast range of Title IX matters at countless schools across the country. You are entitled to a fair hearing before a neutral tribunal and Mr. Lento can ensure that you receive it. Contact us through our online form or call us at 888-535-3686. Let us help you protect your reputation and your academic and professional future.