Good Georgia Lawyer is very happy to report that the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights is cracking down on how colleges and universities report sexual misconduct.
The tougher response comes after a federal investigation identified problems at a number of colleges where sexual assault victims were re-victimized by university policies and procedures.
The Obama administration approach is also in response to the previous administration's laissez faire approach. Now however, colleges and universities are all on notice that they must respond appropriately and accurately report sexual misconduct incidents. Additionally, feds have launched investigations on certain campuses.
In April, the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter to all colleges and universities clarifying specific ways that sexual misconduct should be dealt with under Title IX, a 1972 gender-equity law governing educational institutions that receive federal funds.
Among other things, the letter addresses appropriate time lines for resolving cases, supporting victims, and curing hostile environments. Thus far, at least 25 colleges and universities, ranging from Stanford University to the University of Virginia, have changed and implemented new policies in response to the letter say OCR officials calling it the "wake up call" that was needed.
One big issue is that college campuses must now use a "preponderance of the evidence" standard when adjudicating sexual assault cases. That means a university judicial board needs to be just over 50 percent sure the incident occurred. Some campuses had used a "clear and convincing" standard, which required about 75 percent and then some, like Stanford, had even required "beyond a reasonable doubt," similar to a criminal trial.
In addition to the April letter, OCR has been conducting inquiries and compliance reviews, prompted by concerns at specific schools. OCR reached a settlement with the University of Notre Dame this past summer which came about when a student committed suicide after accusing a fellow student of sexual assault. The school agreed to improve all the sexual assault policies, use a preponderance of the evidence standard, and resolve cases in a timely manner. Currently, Yale University is being investigated by the OCR as well concerning allegations of sexual harassment.
What Does The Law Say Regarding Sexual Assault At Colleges and Universities?
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ("Title IX"), 20 U.S.C. Sec.1681, et seq., prohibits sex discrimination in any federally funded educational program or activity. Title IX also covers sexual violence and obligates schools to do the following. Once a school knows or reasonably should know a sexual assault it must take appropriate action to investigate:
• If sexual violence did happen the school must take immediate effective response to end it, prevent it, and address the effects.
• A school must take steps to protect the victim.
• A school must provide a complaint procedure for students to report sexual discrimination, harassment and assault. The procedures must present an equal opportunity for the accused and accuser to present evidence and appeal.
• A school must now use the preponderance of the evidence standard (51 percent) in adjudicating student judicial hearings.
• A school must notify both parties of the outcome.
Good Georgia Lawyer is encouraged because fortunately, these civil rights laws will now protect more and more students who are victims of sexual assault.
If you are a college student who has experienced a sexual crime on campus you are welcome to contact us to discuss your legal rights. But first, immediately seek medical treatment to preserve DNA and other related evidence. Call us though. We can provide legal counsel via telephone if you are too far away from our Atlanta office but still in Georgia. If you are outside of Georgia, we would be happy to refer you to another lawyer.
If you are a college or a university administrator, Williams Oinonen LLC offers legal consulting, workshops and seminars to train faculty and staff on a variety of legal issues that help insure that institutions comply with the law, avoid liability, and aid in promoting a positive university environment for all students.