College is supposed to be a time of intellectual and personal growth for students, and although parents may be sad to see their son or daughter leave the nest, they also know that college is often the first step in helping a young person mature into a successful adult. Unfortunately, the path to becoming an adult is often fraught with risk. Students in college, and even graduate school, are faced with various risks; some risks which are obvious, and others which are unfortunately not known until it may be too late.
Being accused of sexual assault or other form of sexual misconduct is one such risk. Although the risk may be known in an abstract sense, it is often not until an accused student and his or her family are faced with such a difficult situation that the potential implications start to reveal themselves. The prospect of criminal charges unfortunately always accompanies such allegations, but most students and families will not realize that when a student is accused of Title IX violations, the student's college or university will invoke disciplinary proceedings under Title IX.
Understanding why an accused student is being contacted by his or her school's Title IX office or Title IX officer will help the accused and his or her family understand what potentially lies ahead, and how to respond to such allegations.
Campus Disciplinary Issues - Locally and Nationwide
Parents unfortunately cannot be there for their children every step of the way. Many times students attend colleges and universities far from home; sometimes hundreds of miles away, and sometimes thousands of miles away. Some students go to school further away from home yet - Some of my closest friends from college were from other countries, and in my work representing students charged with campus disciplinary offenses, I have worked with many international students and their families. Clients' families have been as far away as Europe, Asia, and the Middle East for example.
Whether a student attends school locally, in the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Brunswick, or Newark area for example, or anywhere throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or nationwide, students will be faced with situations that they have never had to face before. Peer pressure and alcohol and drug use can also complicate such situations, and unfortunately, decisions will be made by students that can change their entire lives in the blink of eye.
One such situation is when a student is involved with an intimate partner. Whether such a relationship is short-lived or is a longer term relationship that comes to an end, emotions will always be involved. When emotions, and at times alcohol and/or drugs are involved, the combination can be dangerous. Due to events that may have seemed harmless at the time, a student away from home for the first time can later find themselves faced with an email or correspondence from their school's Title IX office. Such an email or correspondence will often inform the student that he or she is subject to a Title IX complaint. Such news will often be met with shock followed by serious concern.
Help When Accused of Title IX Sexual Misconduct Offenses
I am never shocked when students and parents call me asking for help regardless of the circumstances at hand. I have fought in the trenches, and I know that life can be challenging at times. How a person responds to a challenge is what separates the strong from the weak. Having handled countless campus disciplinary cases, I also understand the pressure that colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide are under to aggressively combat sexual assault and to remain in compliance with federal policies mandated by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. I share the serious concerns that come with allegations of Title IX sexual misconduct, and I cannot emphasize how much such concern is warranted.
Students more often than parents, but also parents themselves, often do not recognize how much is at stake when a college student is accused of a Title IX violation. The stakes will always be high regardless of whether a college student is accused of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, or sexual harassment. Sexual violence is also a major part of Title IX policy, and includes such acts as rape, sexual battery, sexual abuse, and sexual coercion. Although the nature of these kinds of acts alone should make the seriousness of the situation known, but this is not always the case for those who have never had to previously face such a burden.
When should I reach out for help after being contacted by my school's Title IX office or Title IX officer?
Whether a student contacts his or her parents, or a student's parents reach out on their son or daughter's behalf, help from outside the school itself should be sought immediately. Colleges and universities have their attorneys involved in a Title IX case from the start, and to understand how to achieve the best possible outcome during what is often a long process, an accused student and his or her parents must exercise their rights and have the right person in their corner from the start; at a minimum, well in advance of a prospective hearing, and preferably before the accused student responds to the school's inquiries in any capacity.
As noted, although the nature of such charges alone should raise major concern in an accused student and his or her family, this is not always the case. I receive inquiries from families who did not take the necessary steps to defend against Title IX charges, including, whenever practical, having the right person represent and protect the accused student's interests from the start of the Title IX campus disciplinary process. I also receive inquiries from students who did not tell their parents about the accusations they faced and what was taking place until it may have been too late.
In both instances, students and parents will be disappointed to hear that trying to change a finding of responsibility after the fact, by seeking an appeal for example, or trying to mitigate adverse consequences after the fact, although not impossible, are that much more difficult than if the proper steps are taken in advance. Such consequences often include suspension at a absolute minimum, not to mention the often likely prospect of expulsion. Not taking the proper steps as early as possible after a college student is involved in his or her school's Title IX investigation and prospective disciplinary process is a mistake that can change the rest of a young person's life.
It is not unrealistic to compare a college or university Title IX case with a criminal prosecution at the school level. If local law enforcement and authorities are not involved in the case (and will not become involved at a later time), and although the school cannot "sentence" a student found responsible to jail, Title IX disciplinary proceedings and a finding of responsibility can have implications on a young person's life and goals that are arguably even more severe than spending time in jail - This is not an exaggeration, and once a student and his or her family completely understand what is at stake, they will realize that responding to Title IX charges in a half-cocked manner will result in unwelcome results.
In addition to all of the other reasons why the right person needs to be in an accused student's corner, the prospect of criminal charges resulting from allegations made against an accused student alone warrant a student and his or her family to make certain that the students interests are protected. The prospect of criminal charges, and in cases when criminal charges have already been filed, are considerations that must be attended to as appropriate when properly responding to Title IX allegations.
In light of what is at stake, including the accused student's academic and professional goals among other concerns, the fundamental question that needs to be answered to thoroughly understand the Title IX disciplinary process is, "Why is a college student charged under Title IX at his or her school?"
What is Title IX? Why is my school charging me with Title IX violations?
A brief understanding of what Title IX is will help in understanding why an accused student's college or university is involved in such matters. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities. Among other educational institutions, colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide that receive any federal financial assistance will be subject to Title IX policies.
Under Title IX, in part, federally funded colleges and universities must ensure that students are not denied or limited in their ability to participate in or benefit from the college's or university's educational programs or activities on the basis of sex. Whether a student attends undergraduate, graduate, business, law, or medical school for example, such a student will be covered under Title IX. In campus Title IX cases, the student who is the alleged victim of sexual violence or other form of sexual misconduct is known as the "complainant." The accused student is known as the "respondent."
A college or university must protect its students' rights under Title IX, and a college or university violates a student's rights under Title IX regarding student-on-student sexual violence (or other forms of sexual misconduct) when the following conditions are met:
- The alleged conduct is sufficiently serious to limit or deny a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the college's or university's educational program (for example, creates a hostile environment); and
- The college or university, upon notice, fails to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence (or other form of sexual misconduct), eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.
When an allegation is made against an accused student, for the school in question to remain in compliance with Title IX policies, the accused student's school must investigate and appropriately respond to such allegations. This is the reason why an accused student will generally be contacted by his or her school's Title IX office in an effort to have the accused student respond to the allegations that are either made known to the school, or come to the school's attention through other means.
Unfortunately, colleges and universities are under tremendous pressure to remain in compliance with Title IX mandates due to the significant federal funding at stake, and arguably as as result, action by the school will often result in an accused student being charged under Title IX. If the college or university fails to take action on behalf of the complainant as deemed appropriate by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the school's federal funding will be at risk.
Pennsylvania & New Jersey Title IX Student Defense Attorney
A college's or university's prospect of federal funding should not dictate your or your student's opportunities in life, but this is in part an unfortunate reality of the present Title IX climate at schools across the nation. The possibility of being found responsible aside, merely being accused of Title IX sexual misconduct can be devastating for a student and his or her family. The stakes will always be high, and what a young person has worked so hard for his or her entire life can be gone in an instant if the proper steps are not taken to defend against Title IX allegations.
If you or your student is accused of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, or under of the acts covered under Title IX policy, make sure your or your student's interests are represented and protected as soon as possible. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.