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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

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How to Cope with the Stress of Title IX Allegations

Many members of the general public only hear about Title IX in connection with sports. They know people disagree over what schools need to do to satisfy their obligations to provide equal opportunities for student athletes. And they know students file lawsuits, and sometimes, schools change their policies.

But these people have no idea that the majority of Title IX legal actions have nothing to do with school sports policies. The Title IX cases that affect students with dizzying intensity involve allegations of Title IX violations. When one student accuses another of sexual assault,  harassment or misconduct, both of their lives can turn upside down very quickly. The stress is phenomenal.

As some parents have learned, the pressure and fear drive students to various unhealthy coping mechanisms, including substance abuse and self-harm. While we don’t have a magic solution, a few strategies can help alleviate some of the anxiety when dealing with Title IX allegations.

Use Your Lawyer for the Right Kind of Counseling

Your lawyer can be a tremendous resource for strength, support, and guidance as you progress through the investigation and disciplinary proceedings. Your lawyer can provide advice on how to proceed, how to communicate with others, and actions to take and avoid. In addition, your lawyer can explain what’s happening and prepare you for what comes next.

But your lawyer is not a trained mental health professional. In fact, many lawyers are far better at arguing than empathizing. They will protect your rights and fight for your future. But you also need to talk to someone who can help you process what you are going through.

An accusation involving sexual assault can haunt both parents and students for years. Everyone involved needs to recognize the impact on their lives and respond to the negative emotions rather than trying to suppress them. Families can be torn apart by the ordeal—or they can grow stronger. Communication is often the key. Working with a therapist individually and as a family can preserve mental health now and in the future. Attorneys who deal with these cases understand the stress and may be able to recommend a counselor who is familiar with Title IX accusations and procedures.

Learn About the Process

Fear of the unknown is one of the most significant stress factors and often one that is unacknowledged. We sometimes imagine possibilities that are worse than reality. But pure uncertainty itself can chew a considerable hole in your psyche.

Consulting an attorney experienced in handling Title IX cases is an excellent way to reduce the fears to manageable proportions. Your legal advisor won’t be able to realistically assure you that the problems will all go away because the stakes are very high, and the outcome can have a far-reaching impact on your life. 

What a knowledgeable lawyer can do, however, is explain the accusations, describe the process, advise you about each step to take going forward, and help you understand and prepare for everything you will face during the process. In some cases, your attorney may be able to speak directly on your behalf. At other times, your lawyer will coach you and prepare you to be a strong and effective advocate for yourself. Either way, your attorney is there to support you, ensure your rights are protected and guide you toward the best path to success.

Knowing what to expect and feeling confident that you have a plan to handle it can alleviate a lot of the stress. The sooner you start working with an attorney, the more time they have to help develop that plan for you and the less time you will agonize over the unknown.

Don’t Let Emotional Reactions Guide Your Tactical Decisions

With emotions roiling inside, it is easy to compose messages in your head explaining what happened, defending yourself, berating others for spreading misinformation, or just expressing your shock and pain. Some people find it therapeutic to write down these thoughts — just don’t send them.

Before interacting with anyone–other than your therapist or attorney who is bound by confidentiality rules—think before you speak. This can be tremendously difficult, which is another reason why it is vital to work with an attorney and therapist as soon as possible.

Every word you communicate to the school, staff, and even other students should be considered a tactical decision. What you say and do can be held against you or work in your favor.

You need to let out your frustration certainly. Just be very careful where you do it. It can be emotionally satisfying to say what you really think, but that satisfaction will fade very quickly. If those words make it more likely that campus decision-makers will rule against you in the proceedings, then that brief moment of release has come at a terrible cost. Be particularly cautious not to attack the character or motivations of others involved in the proceedings. Even when worded mildly, such attacks can negatively affect your character and work against you.

Take Care When Relying on Campus Resources

Colleges all have counseling centers open to students. Your school may recommend that you work with a school counselor to handle the stress of Title IX proceedings. This is not always a good idea. Students often find it advantageous to work with a counselor or therapist with no connection to the school for a variety of reasons.

In theory, counselors employed by the school should be held to confidentiality to rules. But there may be loopholes, and there are always situations where counselors can feel bound by their conscience to reveal information. It is not always the best option to take that chance.

Students are often suspicious of the loyalty of counselors employed by the school. Even if that suspicion is entirely unfounded, the student may not feel confident placing their trust in the counselor, which severely undermines the effectiveness of the relationship. 

A bigger problem for many students is that on-campus counselors are simply often not available when they need them most. They may not agree or be allowed to provide support at a hearing. If a student is restricted in their movements on campus or banned from campus entirely, they lose access to that counselor.  

Stay Off Social Media

You might receive compassionate, encouraging comments if you vent your frustrations on social media. However, you may find people posting support for your position even if you remain silent.

You will also find negative comments, and you may face completely unjustified attacks.

Either way, whether “good or bad,” the comments on social media are likely to increase your emotional reactions to the point where it makes it harder for you to think logically. That is the last thing you need at this time. Don’t read the comments. Don’t read anything. Avoid the temptation to say anything because that can inflame your emotions and be used against you in the proceedings. 

Take Care of Yourself

With all the angst of a Title IX proceeding, your mind will spin during every waking moment and possibly keep you awake at night. So try to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. 

Find a place where you can walk or engage in other forms of exercise. Rediscover spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer. Eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, and try to avoid too much caffeine. Even small self-care efforts can reduce your stress level and remind you that life is a big, wide, complex undertaking that goes far beyond the experiences you are enduring now.

Working with an Experienced Legal Advisor Can Alleviate Anxiety

When you feel overwhelmed by a new experience such as a Title IX investigation, it can be very reassuring to work hand-in-hand with an advisor who has guided others through the experience successfully many times. At Duffy Law, we know what you’re going through because we’ve been there. We focus our entire practice on helping students protect their rights and get the justice they deserve.

Title IX regulations and processes are a double-edged sword that can be used to uphold student rights. But if used improperly, the processes can cut student rights short. We aim to find the balance by employing a comprehensive analysis of each case to develop a tactical strategy for success.

What you face in a Title IX case will be a painful challenge. But we will be with you every step of the way. Contact us today for a confidential consultation to learn how our team can help and support you as a respondent or a complainant in a Title IX case.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.