Ensuring Fairness for Students Accused of Sexual Misconduct
While it is imperative to protect students from sexual assault and harassment, schools should never take it so far that it affects a respondent’s right to an education free from sex discrimination. In the past several years, guidance by the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) led schools to give so much deference to complainants that the accused often did not receive fair and unbiased treatment. Recently, however, Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education issued new interim guidance regarding the Title IX protections of every student, including those facing sexual assault allegations.
The new interim guidance requires that students receive a greater degree of due process and are treated more fairly during any college or university disciplinary proceedings.
Some changes include:
- Requiring schools to handle Title IX complaints with impartiality and to conduct objective investigations that lead to equitable resolutions
- Requiring schools to handle investigations and hearings with the presumption that the accused student is innocent until proven guilty
- Allowing schools to choose their own evidentiary standard between “preponderance of the evidence” and the higher “clear and convincing evidence” when deciding on suspension or expulsion of a student. (NOTE: The University of Oregon is continuing to utilize a preponderance standard for now).
- Allowing respondents access to more evidence
- Allowing respondents to pose question complainants
There is too much at risk to try to navigate the new guidance and defend against sexual misconduct allegations on your own. A finding of sexual misconduct can result in expulsion or suspension from school, loss of financial aid, disqualification from collegiate athletics, and difficulty gaining acceptance into new educational programs or obtaining professional licenses.
You need an attorney who believes in standing up for the rights of respondents in Title IX actions.
How We Can Help
There are many ways an attorney can advise you during the Title IX disciplinary process to help you obtain the most favorable outcome possible.
We evaluate each case on an individual basis, though the following are some ways we may help Title IX respondents:
- Explain the Title IX process and policies of your school, as well as your rights under the law
- Identify the types of information and evidence that you can use to support your narrative and help gather such documentation and evidence
- Craft arguments to rebut any presumptions or claims made by the complainant
- Help you present facts in a clear and comprehensive manner
- Help you use appropriate language and a calm demeanor when discussing sensitive and personal sexual information
- Help you understand and present a consistent and convincing narrative of consent
- Assist you with interactions and communications with investigators and Title IX staff at your school
- Help you practice your narrative to ensure you have a clear presentation even when under the stress of a live hearing
- Help you anticipate certain questions and provide coaching and advice before and during a hearing
- Draft documents including written statements, correspondence with Title IX staff and investigators, mitigation letters, and appeals if needed
- Identify when your school acts in violation of its own policies or your Title IX rights and take proper legal action on your behalf
In addition, some students facing Title IX allegations also face criminal charges for sexual assault. In many cases, we can advise you regarding your criminal defense as well as your Title IX hearing.
Without proper legal representation, it is all too easy for a student to receive overly harsh consequences based on biased and wrongful disciplinary findings.