When a sexual assault on a college campus is reported and an accused named, it can have far-reaching effects for both the victim and the accused. Unfortunately, the investigations surrounding campus sexual assaults have been criticized as being both unfair to the accused and sometimes inadequate for the victim.
Federal Law and Campus Investigations
For colleges and universities that receive federal funds, there are some basic guidelines that they have to follow when handling sexual assault investigations or risk losing federal funding. This is based on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law prohibits schools receiving federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex in their programs and activities. Sexual harassment and assault are defined as forms of discrimination under the law. Additionally, sexual violence is defined as physical sexual acts that are perpetuated against a person against their will, including cases where a person is unable to consent due to an intellectual disability or the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Schools have an obligation under the law to institute policies that effectively handle reports of sexual violence and address the hostile environments created when it occurs. The law also requires schools to ensure that the harassment does not re-occur and deal with its effects. In cases where certain school employees know of incidents of student-on-student sexual assault or harassment, the school is required to investigate the incident whether or not the victim reports it.
Equal Opportunities for the Victim and the Accused
One of the key requirements for responsive procedures from a school to a report of sexual assault is that the investigation into the matter be adequate, reliable, and impartial. In terms of impartiality, the investigation is supposed to give both the victim and the accused an opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses during the investigation. If a school's procedures also allow for the accused to be represented by an attorney during a hearing, the rules must also allow the victim to have an attorney.
Although a hearing may feel like a criminal trial to some extent, it is important to remember that a hearing conducted by a school is separate and distinct from a criminal investigation. Even if a person has been cleared in a criminal investigation, he or she may still face disciplinary action. The standard of proof in a hearing is lower than that in a criminal prosecution, and the procedural protections afforded to the accused are far less.
While these guidelines are supposed to ensure a just decision when a sexual assault accusation is made, there are nevertheless situations in which one party may feel that the other got an unfair advantage. Reports of victims not receiving justice are not uncommon, and neither are reports of innocent students being expelled or otherwise punished.
Contact a Syracuse Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are a college student accused of sexual assault and facing a disciplinary hearing or criminal charges, you need a criminal attorney who has a proven track record of successfully defending college students and can guide you through the process. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.