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What is the Most Difficult Part of Participating as a Complainant in the School Sexual Assault Process?

The complaint process for Title IX sexual assault cases changed when new rules went into effect in 2020, and the process is set to change again under new rules that will be released soon. Those new rules should make the process less stressful in many ways, but they can increase the pressure in other ways.

There is no denying the fact that bringing a complaint against someone for sexual assault requires a great deal of courage. When you work with an experienced Title IX lawyer, however, your attorney can advise you on every aspect of the proceedings, advocate on your behalf at difficult times, and help you to achieve the justice you deserve. You will have someone ready to fight for you every step of the way.

Several steps in the complaint process can be difficult, but the question of which is the most difficult often depends on the circumstances.

Difficulties in Filing a Title IX Complaint Under the 2020 Rules

Rule makers establishing school requirements for Title IX try to balance the rights of complainants and respondents in Title IX cases. Prior to the release of the 2020 rules, many people felt that respondents accused of sexual assault or other violations did not have adequate opportunities to defend themselves. The rules were adjusted to make it harder to prove a violation. Specifically:

  • To open a case, the person seeking justice after a sexual assault had to file a formal complaint instead of a less formal process. This initiated a long and complex process that extended the ordeal for complainants and could hinder them from recovering and moving on with their lives.
  • The respondent was not allowed to be burdened with a penalty until the process was complete, so the complainant might have to face them on a regular basis in the academic setting
  • A formal hearing was required, during which the complainant would not only have to face the person who assaulted them but also be subjected to cross-examination from that person or their attorney.

The hearing, extended investigation, and other parts of the process could cause recurring trauma. Many people saw these rules as a severe setback for the rights of survivors on college campuses and in other academic settings.

Disruption of Social Network

For many Title IX complainants, the most difficult part of participating in a Title IX process is the social isolation and disruption. Many times, they have been assaulted by a person with whom they have or formerly had a relationship. They may have many mutual friends. These friends may not understand or agree with the filing of a complaint. They may take sides, which may make the complainant feel worthless.

Generally, an attorney will advise both complainants and respondents to avoid talking about the case with people on campus and to limit communications generally. The complainant may fear the possibility of facing the person who assaulted them, so they may stop going to classes, drop out of activities, and isolate themselves.

Difficulty in Being Specific

During the Title IX investigation and other parts of the process, the complainant will be asked repeatedly to recount the painful events. The formal complaint, and answers to questions, require the person who has suffered a traumatic ordeal to delve into excruciating detail. If the complainant has blocked something from memory or has trouble recalling exact details, they can be branded a liar if they later remember events with more specificity.  

How the New Regulations Could Make the Process Easier

Although the new Title IX rules have not yet been released, the proposed rules and subsequent departmental information indicate the new rules as proposed will reverse many of the changes that made filing a Title IX complaint so onerous for the complainant.

Simplified Complaint Process

Instead of requiring a person reporting an assault to file a formal complaint, the rules will allow for a less formal complaint process. In addition, all school employees that have knowledge of a violation will be required to report it, so a complainant can gain additional support.

Separation from Respondent

The new rules are likely to allow a school or problem to take temporary measures to keep a respondent from coming into contact with a complainant. For instance, a student accused of sexual assault might be required to attend classes online or avoid certain buildings. They might be suspended from sports or other campus activities. This can decrease the complainant’s potential unease and allow them to continue the educational experience.

Resolution Without a Formal Hearing

One big advantage anticipated for many complainants under the new rules is the opportunity to conclude the Title IX process without a formal hearing. The rules are likely to allow schools to establish a process where an investigation is conducted while keeping the complainant and respondent apart, and a finding would be issued based on separate interviews. Without the formality of a hearing, the need to face the accused directly, and the potential for harsh cross-examination, many more victims may feel comfortable coming forward to report an assault.

However, one factor to be aware of when complaints are resolved through a quick and informal process is that the person bringing the complaint will have less time to gather evidence and prepare to present their case. This increases the pressure to collect evidence as quickly as possible and to ensure that written and spoken statements present all the arguments and facts to support the case early on.

An Experienced Title IX Attorney Can Guide You Through the Process No Matter What That Process Looks Like

Bringing a Title IX complaint is challenging, but you don’t have to face the difficulties alone. Guidance and advocacy from a dedicated Title IX lawyer can prepare you for what’s ahead and help you reach the best resolution so you can move forward.

If you or a loved one suffered a sexual assault in a school setting, get the help you need to gain the justice you deserve and protect others in the future. Contact the team at Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP today for a confidential consultation.