What to do if you’ve been accused of sexual assault under Title IX regulations

What to do if you’ve been accused of sexual assault under Title IX regulations

You’ve been accused of sexual assault on campus. What now?
If you find yourself accused of sexual assault or harassment on your college campus, there are steps you can and should take to ensure you receive a fair and just outcome.

Get help

First, do not panic. If you can, immediately begin to look for and hire a defense lawyer who can provide proper guidance and serve in your best interests as your college or university moves through proceedings. Some schools offer free legal help to those accused of sexual violence under Title IX (as well as to the accusers).
Any defense attorney will tell you to seek help immediately. Don’t waste any time and don’t assume that you explaining your version of alleged events will guarantee a fair process. Even with new regulations in place, schools are still focused on the best outcome for the institution as a whole, not you as an individual.

Keep evidence

Keep all evidence in relation to the accusation. That includes text messages, photographs and videos, phone call history, internet history and chats, and more. Any multimedia or method of communication that may contain information related to the alleged assault should be kept by you and your legal representation.
Having a record of any possible evidence helps tell your side of the story, just as it would in a criminal trial. Take any accusation leveled against you as seriously as you would a criminal charge that goes to trial. Any relevant information should be collected, even if you think it may not be fully relevant.
You have a right to legal representation, or someone to advise you as you move through your school’s disciplinary process. You also have the right to receive full documentation from your school in a timely manner.  Read on for more details about what schools are now expected to do under new DoE guidelines.

The school will have to follow certain guidelines 

If your school receives federal funding, they are expected to follow procedures set in place by the U.S. Department of Education to determine if a person accused of sexual assault under Title IX is in effect guilty and what the consequences should be.
If you’re involved in an allegation, here are a few things you should expect to happen on campus when the new DoE guidelines go into effect in August 2020:
-An updated reporting process: once a student makes a report of an alleged assault or harassment, the school must inform any student involved, including the accused. Parents must also be informed and any relevant evidence must be gathered. Schools must give accused students 10 days to respond to an allegation.
-Record keeping: Schools must keep written records of accusations, evidence, notification of families and the final outcome in each case. Records must be kept for at least seven years.
-Open information: If the accused student is punished for an allegation, the school must inform the victim in writing. This is a practice many schools resisted following in the past.
-Mandatory response: Now, schools will have no choice but to respond to allegations of sex assault or harassment, regardless of how law enforcement decides to take action or becomes involved in a case.
-Different investigators: The person in charge of investigating a campus sex assault case cannot be the same person who decides if the accused student is responsible for committing said act.
-A narrower definition: Schools must now adhere to a narrower definition of sexual assault – defined now as “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would consider so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access” to their education. The DoE told NBC News that this narrower definition includes speech protected by the First Amendment.

Standards of evidence

Many schools have used the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which means the accuser must present evidence that shows it’s more likely than not that the accused person committed the alleged offense. Any person who acts as a fact-finder in a case must be convinced that there is a more than 50 percent chance the claim is true.
The preponderance of evidence standard is often used in civil rights cases and was implemented as the standard of evidence for Title IX cases as it puts both parties and their access to education on equal footing.
Schools may continue to use this evidentiary standard, but under DeVos’s new policy, they may also follow the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which demands heavier proof to conclude the accused person is responsible.
Title IX actually provides you with more protections
Believe it or not, your rights under the Title IX regulations are more robust than they would be in a court of law. The fact that Title IX is focused on fairness between the sexes means that both parties (accuser and accused) must have equal opportunity to present witnesses and evidence, and if a school provides a protection to an accused person, they are expected to provide it for the accused.
For example, if a school lets an accuser’s legal representation to sit in on a hearing, they must also allow the accused to have the same opportunity to have their legal representation sit in. Rather than seemingly limiting your rights as an accused person, Title IX means that you have more protections in place on campus instead of a court room.  With that said, some investigations yield biases, often in favor of the alleged victim.

Consider your future

If you’re found guilty as a result of your school’s investigation, that outcome can follow you for the rest of your life. You may be suspended or even expelled, and the school may also specify on your transcript or disciplinary record that you were found guilty in a sexual assault case.
If you want to transfer to another undergraduate institution, or you’re considering law or graduate school, know that it’s rare any other institution would accept a transcript or disciplinary record of a student found guilty of sexual assault.
That’s why it’s imperative to treat any allegation extremely seriously and get the support you need to fully understand the school’s policy and protect your rights going forward.