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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

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What to Do Immediately if Accused of Sexual Assault at an Educational Institution

Whether you are a student or a member of the faculty or staff, you need to exercise extreme caution to protect yourself if you have been accused of sexual assault at a college or other educational institution. If you are found “responsible” for misconduct under Title IX or school policies, your reputation can be permanently damaged and you are likely to find your options for employment or education severely limited.

The new Title IX regulations that will soon take effect will reduce many due process protections for those facing allegations, so the efforts required to protect your rights will become even more challenging. Even if you think the accusations are groundless, you need to take them seriously to protect your future.

Damage Control: Restrict Your Communications

To avoid saying anything that could be used against you, try to say nothing to anyone until you have talked to your attorney. Whatever you say or do can be taken out of context and used as evidence to show your “guilt.”

Do Not Talk to the Complainant

In particular, do not talk to the person who accused you. From now on, that person will be known as the complainant, and they are like the plaintiff in a court case. It can be tempting to think you can sort out a misunderstanding by explaining things to the person who is upset, but once an accusation is made, the matter moves on to another level. 

Even if they wanted to, the person who complained can probably not just drop the matter. It will be investigated. And that means you need to be very, very careful. Do not talk to the complainant, do not try to send messages through a mutual friend, and do not come near them if at all possible.

Don’t Make Statements to the Police or Title IX Coordinator

When you’ve been raised to respect authority and cooperate with law enforcement, it can be difficult to say “no” when someone asks you to make a statement. But during this chaotic time, it is too easy to say something that is incomplete or remembered incorrectly. If you make statements that are found to be inconsistent, you lose credibility. 

Avoid making statements or answering questions until you have received advice from an attorney who understands Title IX investigations. Of course, you will probably need to make statements and answer questions at some point, but you need to understand how to do so in a way that protects your rights.

Preserve Evidence

After an accusation of any type of wrongdoing, it is natural to switch into panic mode. And when we’re panicking, we just want to erase everything that seems wrong. You might look at email messages and texts and wonder if there’s something wrong with them and think that it’s best if no one sees them.

Don’t give in to the temptation to hide anything. Whatever you’re trying to delete or hide will probably come to light anyway. Whether it does or does not, investigators can usually tell when something has been deleted, and that makes it look incriminating even if it is not. 

The evidence you find worrisome could actually be used to help you. Save everything. Your attorney can work with you to help you preserve evidence. Depending on the circumstances, it may be advisable to hire an independent investigator to conduct interviews and gather evidence.

Why Allegations of Sexual Assault at an Educational Institution Need to Be Handled So Carefully

Accusations of sexual assault at a school are handled far differently from accusations of sexual misconduct under criminal law. In a criminal case, the government must respect your due process rights and they need to establish your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not hold true for an investigation conducted under Title IX or school policies. You can be found “responsible” for wrongdoing without as much opportunity to defend yourself, and the standard of proof is much lower.

When the new regulations take effect, those accused of sexual assault will face even greater difficulties. Under the current regulations, the accused person—known as the respondent—cannot be “burdened” (penalized) until there has been a formal finding of responsibility. The new regulations as proposed allow schools and organizations to act against the respondent before they have formally been found responsible for misconduct. For instance, a student athlete might be banned during the investigation and may want to consider transferring to another school to continue their career.

The new proposed rule can also subject the accused person to charges even if a formal complaint is not filed, and these rules do not require schools to provide a hearing to give the respondent the opportunity to defend themselves.

Get Help from an Experienced Title IX Attorney

Because proceedings based on accusations of Title IX and school disciplinary policy violations are handled so differently than criminal and civil cases, a respondent should seek advice from an attorney experienced in these campus proceedings.

The pace is much faster in a Title IX case and the opportunities for defense are more limited. Instead of working with prosecutors and well-defined criminal laws, a defense attorney representing a student, faculty, or staff member in a Title IX case will be working with nebulous school policies and changing Title IX regulations interpreted by coordinators and tribunals that are often inexperienced. When an attorney understands how to work around these realities, they can often find grounds for defense and protection that might otherwise be missed.

Work with the Dedicated Team at Duffy Law if You are Facing Accusations of Sexual Assault

At Duffy Law, we know that Title IX and the implementing regulations and policies have helped many students enjoy full opportunities in educational settings, but we also know that when these rules are not applied correctly, the rights of students, faculty, and staff can be irreparably harmed.

We work tirelessly to ensure that Title IX is used as it should be. If you are facing allegations of wrongdoing, we will defend your rights to the fullest extent of the law because you are entitled to a vigorous and informed defense. But remember, it is important to act quickly because the investigation and disciplinary process can move with lightning speed.

If you have been accused of wrongdoing associated with an educational institution, contact us now to learn how to protect your rights and future opportunities.

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.