Understanding Title IX
Title IX is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, age, race, or gender at any federally funded college, university, or institution. This means that any student that experiences acts of sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, or gender discrimination are legally entitled to have their reports responsibly handled by the university or college. However, often victims do not have a positive experience when filing their complaints to their school and cases are frequently mishandled. This can leave victims with lifelong emotional and psychological damage when proper action is not taken on behalf of their experience. That is where skilled, compassionate attorneys can step in to advocate for those students who need their best interests fought for after sexual assault.
Types of Title IX Cases
The Code of Federal Regulations states that:
Sexual harassment means conduct on the basis of sex that satisfies one or more of the following:
- An employee of the recipient conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of the recipient on an individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct;
- Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person access to the recipient’s education program or activity or;
- “Sexual assault” as defined in 20 U.S. 1092 (f)(6)(A)(v), “dating violence” as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(a)(10), “domestic violence” as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291(a)(8), or “stalking” as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12291 (a)(30).
Sex discrimination can come in various forms and can happen to women, men, transgender, and non-binary students of any age or race.
- Sexual assault, battery, abuse, and coercion
- Physical threats
- Sexual exploitation
Who Commits Sexual Discrimination
The misconception many college students may hold is that sexual assault only happens in dark alleyways when a stranger physically overtakes you after you’ve had too much to drink. Unfortunately, the most common scenarios are that the victims know the perpetrators and they may not have been totally aware that the assault occurred until after the fact, even if they were sober. Anyone can commit sexual assault anywhere regardless of the involvement of alcohol and drugs. In fact, perpetrators typically get to know victims and gain their trust before the incident occurs. Sexual assault can be committed by:
- Romantic partners
- Coaches and campus staff
Who Is Affected By Sexual Discrimination
Every student, regardless of age, race, gender, sex, or orientation can be a victim of sexual discrimination. The non-profit Know Your Title IX provides some statistics that:
- 17% of female students had been assaulted while enrolled in college. (2014)
- 84% of female survivors report being sexually assaulted during their first four semesters on campus. (2007) This has been called the ‘red zone’ on college campuses.
- More than 57% of college students who report experiencing dating violence report experiencing it while in college. (2011)
- Gay and bisexual men are over ten times more likely to experience sexual assault than heterosexual men. (2005)
- Approximately 34% of multiracial women, 27% of Alaska Native/American Indian women, 22% of black women and 14.6% of Hispanic women are survivors of sexual violence. (2011)
- Individuals who identify as disabled are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than persons who do not identify as disabled. Individuals who have multiple disabilities experience even higher rates of violence. (2014)
Your Rights Protected By Title IX
Title IX plays a huge role in protecting every student’s right to equal and fair access to postsecondary education at federally funded institutions. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination that prevents students from safety and security while they are pursuing their education. Regardless of sex or gender, every student has the right to pursuing their education without fear of or experiencing any form of sexual discrimination and harassment.
Students are similarly protected from any form of unlawful retaliation and adverse treatment if involved in a Title IX claim. It is possible that students may experience pushback when speaking out on sexual discrimination from peers, coaches, or professors. In fact, the Supreme Court has held that Title IX’s private right action encompasses suits for retaliation. This mistreatment can look like:
- Intimidation from professors and coaches
- Reduction in academic grades
- Refusal to join clubs or athletic teams
- Threatening of grades, participation, or positions the student holds
Reporting and enforcing Title IX is crucial to ending the stigmas and cycles of sexual discrimination on college campuses. If student’s experience mistreatment when taking action against sexual discrimination, a Title IX attorney will know the steps to take when proving retaliation.
Filing A Complaint
Every college has designated Title IX offices and coordinators that oversee the procedures for handling Title IX complaints. Grievance procedures and information must be easily accessible to all current students, students who are applying, as well as parents and guardians. In fact, anyone can report sexual discrimination whether it is on behalf of the victim or if they feel there is a “hostile sexual environment”, as long as the complainant is participating in the college or institution’s programs. Following recent revisions made to Title IX laws in 2020, only formal complaints requesting investigation submitted through the Title IX Coordinator will be investigated. The complaint must also be filed within 180 days following the date of the incident of sexual discrimination.
It is difficult to come forward when filing a complaint and to speak about an experience of sexual assault. Support from close friends, family, and an attorney can help students courageously make the decision to file a formal complaint against an aggressor. An experienced and versed Title IX attorney can help you understand every step of the process in your case and ensure the college or institution complies with current laws and regulations.
The healing process after experiencing sexual assault can involve physical, emotional, and psycologcial wounds. Every victim must first understand that what occured is in no way a fault of their own, and they have support to take steps towards healing. In the aftermath of an assault of any kind, students can do the following to prepare to file a complaint:
- Ensure safety by removing yourself from the situation if possible and seeking medical treatment if necessary.
- Find support from close friends and family and discuss your experience when you are ready.
- Process your experience and recall as much detail as possible, or gather any physical evidence.
- Locate your college or institution’s Title IX office or coordinator to file a formal complaint.
- Consider getting the support from an experienced Title IX attorney who will protect your rights during every step of the process.
Title IX Investigations
Colleges and institutions have a duty to take every formal complaint seriously, and to keep victims or reporters aware of the progress of the complaint if it turns into an investigation. Every formal complaint should be seriously investigated, but that is not always the case. Investigations of
The hours following any act of sexual assault are crucial in maintaining evidence for later investigations. It can be difficult for victims to think of what would be needed for evidence, let alone if they will report their assault. After finding safety, medical attention, and support, victims can gather some of the following to use in their case:
- Unwashed clothing worn during the assault
- Bedding and linen
- DNA found on the victim
- Physical injuries or photographs of injuries with time stamps
- Witnesses present leading up to, around the area of, or during the assault
- Details of the incident and aggressor such as names, appearances, car descriptions, locations, etc.
Revisions to laws and regulations no longer require that schools use the preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing evidence standard for Title IX cases. This means that if the school chooses to not use this evidentiary standard, evidence alone cannot prove the respondent “more likely than not” committed sexual assault. This can become frightening for victims because the school bears the responsibility to gather evidence and not the parties.
When pursuing your case, a Title IX attorney will help protect your rights and build a convincing case with the evidence available.
Hearings, Meetings, and Interviews
Title IX procedures and regulations have been updated to promote due process throughout the entirety of an investigation. These regulations vary depending on the circumstances of each case, and victims may be left feeling as if they are not being heard when the rights of aggressors are being further protected. Students can now obtain an attorney who can help them prepare and be present for all hearings, meetings, or interviews throughout the grievance process. Having a Title IX attorney present can help protect victims’ rights during the investigation and ensure that the school abides by all laws and regulations.
Both parties will now be given notice of all proceedings that allows time to prepare before the meetings. Additionally, the Hearing Officer may call witnesses to be questioned by each party’s advisor. Having an attorney present can help protect victims from questions of irrelevance such as prior sexual behavior or disposition that can unfairly be used to justify the aggressor’s behavior.
Supportive Measures Taken During Investigation
The purpose of these measures is to ensure that access to the education program is preserved and protected without negatively impacting the other party until a formal verdict of the case is reached. Your school may give the options of or students may request temporary supportive measures during the investigation the case such as:
- Counseling, medical, and/or other healthcare services
- Alternate on-campus housing options
- No contact orders
- Class schedule modifications
- Increased security, monitoring, or escort efforts
- Academic support
- Referrals to supportive services in the community
Victims have a right to any supportive measure they feel necessary to feel safe on campus and continue to receive academic instruction without disruption. The school is required to provide these measures after a formal complaint is filed to both the complainant and respondent.
2020 Revisions to Title IX Investigations
Recent alterations to the Department of Education’s guidelines for Title IX have many questioning if the revisions reduce college’s and institution’s liability for covering up or ignoring sexual discrimination complaints. Most of the revisions are intended to promote the equality of treatment for both complainants (victims) and respondents (accused) throughout the process of the investigation.
As of August 2020, the following are some key revisions made to the Code of Federal Regulations pertaining to Title IX procedures:
- There is a presumption of innocence until a formal decision is made, with the burden of proof on the college or institution.
- Both the complainants and respondents have the opportunity to have an advisor of choice, such as an attorney, present during any grievance proceeding. The institution must provide a party with an advisor if they do not select one.
- Respondents are provided a live hearing during the grievance process where each party’s advisor is permitted to ask all parties and witnesses questions, including those that challenge credibility.
- Colleges and institutions only have jurisdiction over incidents that occur on campus property. This excludes off-campus housing, unofficial events that occur off-campus, and study abroad.
- Negative measures cannot be imposed on the respondent, such as suspension, unless the respondent is found guilty at the conclusion of an investigation.
- Both parties must be given a written notice of the time and purpose of all steps of the investigation process to give parties the opportunity to prepare.
- The institution may dismiss a complaint if the respondent drops enrollment or if circumstances prevent the institution from gathering sufficient evidence.
The implications of these revisions, though meant to promote due process, can prove to make a victim’s time dealing with their case more difficult, especially without the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney.
Violations When Handling A Case
If you believe your college or institution has violated your rights when handling your Title IX case, understand you do not have to remain silent and accept it. If a school is found to be non-compliant with following proper Title IX guidelines and processes, the situation and case outcome can be rectified to protect the victim as well as protecting mistreatment of future victims.
A college or institution can mishandle a case at any point of the process and fail to protect their students safety and access to education. If a school dismisses a formal complaint and does not proceed to investigate properly, an attorney can help students consider the option of taking a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights to hold the school liable as well as the aggressor. Every victim has a right to an investigation of their formal complaint as well as supportive measures after filing their complaint. If a complaint is denied and the school does not provide supportive measures, a victim can be left scared, invalidated, at harm, and alone in their experience of speaking out on their sexual assault.
Colleges and institutions can face serious damages if found to violate Title IX laws and regulations, and victims can even be compensated for their misconduct when handling their case. More importantly, holding schools accountable will bring justice to the treatment of the victim and help enforce protocols to prevent future misconduct.
Contact A Title IX Attorney at Smith, Welch, Webb and White
Exploring your options after experiencing sexual assault on campus can be overwhelming. A Title IX attorney at Smith, Welch, Webb and White can take the burden of your investigation off your shoulders so you can focus on healing physically, mentally, and emotionally while continuing your education. Contacting an attorney as early as possible will help protect victims’ rights during the Title IX process and hold colleges and institutions liable for violations. Contact us today at (770) 957-3937 to get in touch with our Title IX attorneys.
Any representations regarding the law in this Blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
Megan Murren Rittle is a partner with Smith, Welch, Webb & White, LLC, focusing in the area of litigation and using her trial skills in the courtroom. Megan’s experience spans civil litigation, criminal defense, employment, eminent domain, domestic, and probate law. Megan has served as a Guardian ad Litem and appointed attorney for adult wards in Henry County probate court for nearly five years. Megan as litigated several federal cases dealing with Constitutional questions, including Title IX and Section 1983 claims.