Title IX is a federal law that was passed in 1972 to protect individuals from gender bias and to guarantee equal opportunities in athletics and school admissions. The law specifically reads that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
While Title IX mainly applies to educational settings like K-12 public schools and publicly-funded colleges and universities, libraries, museums, and other programs that receive federal dollars are also subject to the law. During its early inception, the Title IX statute enabled many more women to enter colleges and universities and to take advantage of higher education opportunities.
More recently, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Education affirmed that sexual harassment and sexual violence, particularly on college campuses, are forms of sexual discrimination. This has led to more awareness of sexual misconduct in higher education overall, as well as an increase in the reporting of such allegations, some of which have proven to be false.
If you’ve been falsely accused of rape or are under investigation for a Title IX violation that involves sexual assault allegations, hiring an attorney with a background in both Title IX law and experience defending sex crime cases is important to protecting your future and your freedom. The attorneys at Berry Law have extensive experience handling these types of cases and are prepared to fight alongside you for justice.
Why Are Colleges and Universities Focusing on Title IX Violations Now More Than Ever?
The penalty for colleges and universities who are non-compliant or who fail to investigate claims of sexual misconduct on campus is a loss of state and federal funds. Complainants are also able to bring private lawsuits against any educational institution if they believe that the institution’s response to the complaint was not sufficiently investigated or handled. If the college or university didn’t take appropriate steps to end harassment or prevent sexual misconduct from occurring again, they could be held liable for damages to the victim.
In an effort to avoid lawsuits and to retain important funding, colleges and universities are giving close attention to Title IX violations in order to stay compliant under the law. Extensive media coverage on high-profile college sexual assault and harassment cases in recent years has led many nervous administrators to skip over due process for accused students. As a result, the accused is often treated as though he or she is guilty from the get-go.
What is a Title IX Violation?
Title IX offers protection to more than just students. Faculty, administrative staff, vendors on campus, and other full and part-time employees are also subject to its benefits and responsibilities. Most institutions of higher education mandate that faculty and other school personnel report any allegations of sexual assault or misconduct that are brought to their attention immediately.
Title IX violations can span a wide range of offenses, from an institutional failure to provide equal access to athletics and educational programs to allegations that could result in criminal charges. Some of the most common violations include:
- Gender bias in athletic programs
- Gender bias in the workplace
- Creating a hostile educational environment
- Housing discrimination
- Practices that discriminate against pregnant or parenting individuals
- Sexual coercion
- Sexually motivated verbal and non-verbal conduct
- Relationship violence
- Assault and sexual misconduct
- Forcible rape
Accusations of sexual misconduct or sexual assault often come down to issues of consent. One party alleges that the sexual activity in question was non-consensual, while the other claims that it was consensual. Title IX investigations are further complicated when one or both parties are found to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the alleged sexual contact.
Consent is typically defined as sexual activity that does not involve force, coercion, or intimidation. Most universities have adopted an affirmative consent standard, which says that affirmative behavior, either physical or verbal must be present at each stage of sexual activity. Additionally, neither party should assume that consent for one sexual act is consent for another or for any sexual contact in the future.
What Happens During a Title IX Investigation?
Each educational institution is required to appoint a Title IX coordinator whose job is to ensure that investigations and hearings occur quickly and that any proceedings are conducted in an unbiased and impartial manner. A Title IX coordinator is supposed to act as a neutral party.
When a complaint is made to the school, an investigation will be opened by the Title IX coordinator. He or she will begin with fact finding and a possible hearing to determine whether any misconduct occurred. They will interview both parties and any possible witnesses, examine all of the evidence, determine whether a violation occurred under Title IX, and recommend appropriate consequences where applicable.
Title IX investigations require a much lower standard of proof than that of criminal investigations. Rather than proving that that a violation did occur, Title IX investigations only have to seek proof that a crime did not occur. Frequently, a school will tell an accused individual that they don’t need to hire an attorney for a Title IX investigation, but there are many reasons for doing so; most importantly, to protect his or her rights.
A Title IX coordinator may request a written statement from the accused. In the absence of legal counsel, he or she may not know that any statement provided can later be used to justify that person’s suspension, dismissal, or even criminal charges when handed over to law enforcement. A criminal defense attorney may advise a client not to answer any questions from Title IX investigators since those statements can be used against them.
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How Can Hiring an Attorney help Me During a Title IX Investigation?
Despite the fact that complainants and respondents are supposed to be provided the same rights during a Title IX investigation, it’s not unusual for school administration to fail to protect the rights of the accused. The consequences of a Title IX investigation can derail your life, resulting in suspension or expulsion from school or a degree program.
It’s important to get on top of such allegations immediately, and hiring an attorney can help. They can investigate on behalf of the accused prior to any kind of disciplinary hearing, prepare their client for the types of questions they may be asked during the hearing, and advise him or her on the best way to respond to questioning to minimize further damage.
An attorney’s job during a Title IX investigation is to stand beside his or her client and ensure they are treated fairly and equally. Their first priority when it comes to a rape accusation is to keep the client from getting arrested, and then to work toward keeping them in school.
Even when an attorney is not permitted to speak at a Title IX hearing, which is common, he or she can gather evidence, locate witnesses, and prepare a defense strategy for a criminal case should one become necessary.
Can I Face Jail Time for Title IX Allegations?
A Title IX investigation is not a criminal matter. Such violations fall only under the jurisdiction of the school and are considered an internal matter that is separate from law enforcement or the court system. The educational institution’s obligation to act in Title IX cases is not dependent on law enforcement getting involved. They must act regardless.
Even when an individual is found responsible for misconduct following a Title IX investigation and is suspended or expelled from school, they are not subject to criminal penalties as a result. By the same token, a school can invoke disciplinary consequences even in situations where a criminal case has been dismissed, charges reduced, or legal prosecution is pending.
Possible penalties for violating a Title IX mandate include:
- Verbal or formal written warning
- No contact orders with a victim
- Disciplinary probation
- A change of residence hall or housing arrangements
- Change in employment position on campus
- Loss of tenure
- Mandatory counseling
- Loss of scholarships
- A requirement to write a formal letter of apology
- Revocation or withholding of a degree
Because Title IX investigations are completely separate matters, Fifth Amendment double jeopardy laws don’t apply. Even when found not responsible during a Title IX investigation and hearing, the accused individual is not out of the woods. The complainant may appeal the findings and the accused may still face disciplinary consequences.
How Can Title IX Allegations Affect a Criminal Investigation?
A Title IX investigation doesn’t protect an accused person from legal consequences, even when he or she is found not at fault during the Title IX proceedings. Criminal charges related to sex crimes can be investigated at the same time or following a Title IX investigation.
Sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, sexual battery, forcible rape or other related offenses can end up in criminal or civil court and be prosecuted under state law. Anything a defendant says or does during a Title IX investigation can be used against them in a related criminal case. This is another reason that it’s important to have legal counsel early on in any investigation involving sexual assault or misconduct.
Sometimes whether or not a criminal investigation occurs largely depends on whether the accuser chooses to also file criminal charges in addition to lodging a Title IX complaint. It’s important to note that educational institutions are responsible for ensuring that accusers do not face retaliation or bullying for making a complaint. It’s illegal for anyone, including the accused or his or her family members to retaliate against the complainant and can lead to further consequences.
Any allegations of campus sexual assault may result in law enforcement automatically conducting an independent criminal investigation of their own along with the educational institution, regardless of whether the accuser files criminal charges. Following their own investigation, a college or university will generally turn over any records related to sexual assault allegations to law enforcement, either voluntarily or due to a subpoena requiring it.
If a county or state prosecutor finds sufficient evidence to prosecute, the accused will be arrested and charged with a crime. It’s possible to be facing both Title IX disciplinary consequences and legal consequences at the same time.
Being convicted of a sexual offense in the state of Nebraska can carry serious penalties including long prison sentences and hefty fines. While Title IX investigations and consequences do not include the requirement to register on the Sexual Offender Registry, a criminal conviction can.
What Can I Do if I Have Complaints About How My Title IX investigation Was Handled?
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) governs Title IX regulations at colleges and universities across the country. They enforce and investigate educational institutions and how they handle Title IX complaints.
Any complaints against a school should be filed with OCR, who will then investigate alleged failures. Educational institutions who knew about accusations and failed to address sexual harassment or sexual misconduct in programs or activities sponsored by the school can be held liable in court.