Sexual assault and rape are major crimes that are often reported directly to the police. However, schools and Universities that receive Federal funding are also subject to a law that requires them to prevent sex-based discrimination on campus. This law is called Title IX, and claims can be brought under it for sexual assault or harassment. Most colleges pursue these claims very aggressively and seriously.
With the advent of dating apps across University campuses and beyond, increasingly risky dating behavior is taking place. Many young people meet with people that they do not know or trust, in places that may not always be safe. The stakes can be very high, and it is vitally important for students to ensure that they act responsibly. In the case that a student is accused of sexual assault on campus, following the correct procedure is vital.
What is Title IX and How Does it Relate to Sexual Assault Claims?
Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972, and it sets out that:
“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.”1
The law also explicitly states that sexual harassment in educational programs or activities is covered by Title IX.2
Several high-profile claims have been brought under Title IX, such as the case of Jameis Winston, the star football player for Florida State University. Winston’s case was settled in court for $950,000, and he later brought a claim for defamation against the Claimant.3
Another high-profile case involving sexual assault allegations at a University was the case against the Duke University’s lacrosse team. The charges were eventually dropped, but in the meantime the students were suspended from University while the case was tried.4
How Do School Policies Fit In?
Schools, colleges, and other educational institutions have their own Title IX policies. These policies cover how the school will approach claims and the process they will follow. The person subject to an accusation under Title IX is called “the Respondent”, and the person making the claim is called “the Claimant”.
Most of the time, schools will follow a two-stage process. The first stage is an investigation stage, and the second stage is the adjudication or decision stage. If, during the investigation stage, a school finds that there is enough evidence for a Title IX claim to be considered, the Respondent will then be subject to the second stage.
The Respondent has the right not to participate in the school’s Title IX disciplinary process. This means that it can proceed without them. However, the Respondent is entitled to notice of the charges, an explanation of the evidence, and a right to respond if they wish to take it.5
What Steps Should You Take if you are Accused of a Sexual Assault Under Title IX?
The disciplinary process can have serious immediate and long-term consequences, and it is crucial to approach it in the correct way.
- The first step is to speak to an attorney as soon as possible before you speak to anyone else as part of the disciplinary process at your school.
- By working with an attorney, you will be able to determine what evidence will be the most useful for your response to the accusation. This could include witnesses, text messages or emails, or photographic or video recordings. Investigations can be extremely comprehensive, and it is very important that you raise all possible evidence that could come up.6
- Next, you should request that the school provide a written outline of all relevant dates, documents, and parts of the process that you will have to participate in, and all information on the school’s Title IX policy.
- It’s possible that the school can instate “interim safety measures” for the Complainant or Respondent, such as what is called a “No Contact Order”. There may also be other requirements such as class schedule changes, counseling, or accommodation changes.7
- With help from your lawyer, when the school presents you with the record of evidence against you or in relation to the accusation, you should review and confirm whether it is complete and accurate. The school will use this evidence when deciding whether to bring the Title IX charge or not. You should raise any objections you have, even if the school does not agree with them or follow them. You can use these objections later if there is an appeal.
- Finally, you will go through the proceeding once the school has made a decision on the evidence. You can go through this with the help of your lawyer.
What Does the Process Look Like?
In most cases, the Title IX process will be a hearing in which evidence is presented and witnesses can be heard. Some schools use what is called the “single investigator” model, in which an external person or someone from the school reviews the evidence and speaks to witnesses, and then decides what will happen next. In some cases, schools use a mixture, in which an independent investigator gathers and assesses the evidence, and then presents this information to the hearing.
Regardless of the model that is followed, Respondents and Complainants have equal rights in the proceedings. This means that if a Respondent wants to present witnesses, the Complainant will also be allowed to present witnesses, or if the Complainant wants to add comments to a document, the Respondent will also be allowed to do so.
For a Title IX claim, the burden of proof is not “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Rather, the Respondent is judged on a “preponderance of the evidence”. This is a less strict standard and means that the person can be found guilty if they are thought to be more likely guilty than not. Furthermore, cross-examination is not recommended for Title IX cases by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Instead, only written questions can be submitted to the Complainant, or questions posed through an intermediary such as the investigator or the chairperson of the adjudication panel.
When the process is concluded, both parties will be notified in writing of the outcome, and any disciplinary actions. This could include writing an apology, counseling, restitution, suspension, or possibly expulsion. If the decision is not in your favor, you can make an appeal based on new evidence, procedural issues, or if the severity of the sanctions does not match the severity of the violation.
It’s important to remember that Title IX cases are not criminal cases. However, criminal charges can be brought alongside a Title IX claim, and discipline under Title IX will not affect criminal penalties that you could be subject to. Contact an experienced defense attorney to help you fight these allegations.