The standards for sexual assault on campus are different than under the criminal justice system in most states, and much more prone to findings against the accused. Almost all colleges and universities have adopted policies of Affirmative Consent. Affirmative Consent requires that a person must give consent to all sexual acts, whether verbally or nonverbally. Consent must be mutual, voluntary, unambiguous, and freely given, that is without coercion or incapacitation. Consent may also be revoked at any time.
Schools typically take charges of sexual assault more seriously than other violations. And penalties can be more severe for those found responsible, including expulsion or, for employees, termination.
Victims of sexual assault, as well as witnesses or other parties (for example, friends or professors) can report the incident to the Title IX coordinator for investigation. The college usually works to protect your confidentiality, but cannot guarantee it. Victims of sexual assault need support. They often feel they are reliving the trauma of the event over and over during the course of investigation and hearings.
Schools provide some help, such as a referral to counseling services. But primarily the school’s main concern is to safeguard its reputation, avoid litigation, and avoid the scrutiny of federal agencies such as the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education. Your school’s interests and your interests are not always aligned, even if you have been the victim of a sexual assault and you are offered help.
The process can also be unfair to victims. Depending on the status and prominence of the accused, a school may make exceptions to the rules and take action to protect key employees, popular athletes, or important professors. Victims can and do end up being blamed and retaliated against for coming forward.
Both sexual assault victims and the accused can and should seek the assistance of a qualified attorney as soon in the process as possible – even before a complaint is filed with the school. An attorney can guide you through the investigation and bring leverage to bear to help you. A lawyer will ensure that your basic rights to a fair proceeding are preserved, that you get access to relevant evidence, and that you have the right to present your own evidence. An attorney can help you prepare for the investigative process, preserve evidence, and prevent the college or university from mishandling your case. Ultimately, if the school bungles the matter or looks the other way—by refusing to take proper action, discriminating against you, or otherwise acting improperly—an attorney can file a civil suit.
Due to the seriousness of sexual assault charges and the impact on the students involved, you should always seek the help of an attorney.