Going off to college comes with new opportunities for freedom. Anyone who went away for school can remember the independence of socializing with classmates at parties and relaxing in a dorm room or apartment without the concern of parents walking in at any moment.
This freedom and independence can provide opportunities for intimacy, but what if the other individual in that intimate moment later claims you took advantage?
What if there are allegations of sexual harassment or assault?
These allegations are always serious but take on an added layer of complexity when they occur at college. One reason these cases are so much more complex: Title IX.
What is Title IX and why is it so complicated?
At its foundation, Title IX is a federal law that prohibits educational institutions that receive federal funding from discrimination based on sex. The passage of Title IX allowed women to pursue higher levels of education. Like any law, it has evolved over the years. It expanded its focus shortly after passage to ensure male and female athletes receive equal opportunities. In more recent years, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education began using the law to address sexual harassment and assault at college campuses using guidance documents.
The agency intended these documents to help remove a reporting hurdle for victims. In the past, a victim could hold a school liable for sexual assault or harassment by a faculty member or peer if the school had actual knowledge of the misconduct and acted with deliberate indifference. Critics argued this encouraged institutions to remain ignorant of the problem to avoid liability.
These guidance documents served to provide steps schools were to implement to end sexual harassment but with each change in presidential administration came a change in the rules. This constant evolution is part of why Title IX is so complicated. The rules that guide its application often change and the changes are often linked to shifts in political dynamics and social norms.
What happens during an investigation?
Although application of the law changes, the process of a claim generally remains the same. It often proceeds as follows:
- Complaint. These cases begin when someone files a report to the campus Title IX coordinator or a complaint with the OCR.
- Investigation. The complaint may trigger an official investigation based on the information within the complaint.
- Hearing. The results of the investigation could trigger a hearing. The accused will likely need to attend and defend themselves against the allegations.
Those who face these accusations are wise to seek legal counsel to help discuss the process and prepare for questioning.
What if I do not agree with the results of the hearing?
It is possible to file an appeal if the investigation had insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a violation. A successful appeal generally includes:
- Information. An appeal can include evidence that the facts used to decide the case were incomplete or inaccurate.
- Legal analysis. It is also possible to challenge the legal analysis or legal standard used to decide the case.
- Impact of error. Success also requires the person making the appeal establish that a correction of either error would likely result in a change to the outcome of the case.
There are time limits for every step of the process, from the initial complaint to the final appeal. A failure to abide by these time limits can make it difficult to fight a claim.
What are the possible consequences?
Consequences can include suspension or expulsion from school. Additional criminal charges could also apply. This can mean that the individual who faces these charges can experience significant setbacks to their academic and personal growth if they do not take the steps to fight back. As such, anyone who is facing allegations of a violation is wise to seek legal counsel to better ensure their rights are protected.