With students returning to campus – some for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic sent many students home for remote learning – there is likely to be an uptick in accusations of sexual misconduct as students begin socializing again. Campus disciplinary proceedings are often very unfair, so if you or someone you know has been accused of sexual misconduct on campus, you need to take prompt action to protect your rights.
Why do colleges handle sexual misconduct claims?
One of the first questions people often ask is, why are colleges trying people for sexual misconduct? Isn’t that a matter for the criminal justice system?
There are two primary reasons for this.
First, colleges are required to address sexual misconduct under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination at educational institutions receiving federal funds – which almost all colleges and universities, both public and private, do. Under the regulations and court decisions interpreting Title IX, student-on-student sexual misconduct – including sexual harassment and assault – can be forms of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX if an institution knows about them and does nothing to address them. Therefore, schools are required to have procedures to address them.
Second, campus conduct codes are often very different from state criminal laws, and many prohibit behaviors that are not criminal. For example, many schools use a definition of consent that is completely different from the consent standard used in courts of law, and that makes it much harder to prove that someone consented to sexual contact. Under many colleges’ “affirmative consent” standards, unless there is affirmative evidence that someone said “yes” to sexual contact, that contact may be deemed nonconsensual even if there is no evidence that they said “no,” or were forced or coerced.
What are my rights if I am accused?
Unfortunately, campus judicial systems generally do not offer the kind of due process you would be entitled to in a court of law. Depending on the circumstances, a student accused of sexual misconduct may not even be given a hearing or an opportunity to confront their accuser.
Under a law called the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), however, all students involved in campus sexual misconduct proceedings have the right to an advisor of their choice – including an attorney. If you receive a letter notifying you that you have been accused of sexual misconduct, choosing a knowledgeable advisor is critical. Your advisor will be able to tell you exactly what rights you are legally entitled to (something that depends on what type of school you attend, in what state, whether the misconduct took place on- or off-campus, and other factors) and will work to ensure that your school does not deny you those rights or subject you to an unfair or biased proceeding.
Students who have done nothing wrong often believe they can handle these situations on their own, but the reality is that the deck is often stacked against the accused, and you need someone on your side.
Contact our experienced firm
The attorneys at Allen Harris serve as advisors to accused students across the country, and we have the knowledge and experience to help ensure you get the fairest possible process. If you need a strong advocate on your side, contact us today.