Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo signed the "Enough is Enough" law, aimed at addressing the perceived sexual assault problem at colleges in New York State. The main purpose of the law is to ensure the implementation of uniform responses to reports of sexual assault, domestic violence and related crimes on campus. There are some provisions within the law that offer safe harbor for other students who may report sexual assault.
As part of the law, New York required colleges to adopt a uniform definition of "consent" regarding sexual activity between consenting parties, defining it as voluntary, mutual, and knowing. The law provides that silence or the lack of resistance does not necessarily indicate consent. This has been referred to as a "yes means yes" standard, with both parties being required to affirmatively consent to the sexual activity.
Students who witness sexual assault or who are victims of sexual assault would be granted immunity from violations of campus policies when reporting a sexual assault. For example, students who are in a situation in which alcohol or drugs are being consumed when they witness a sexual assault, even if they are themselves under the influence, would not face discipline for violating campus alcohol or drug policies. This is supposed to encourage reporting of campus sexual assaults, which are said to be underreported.
While these steps are laudable in their attempt to deal with a potentially troubling problem on college campuses, there is also a need to address the rights of accused college students, who may not face fair hearings or investigations when such serious allegations are levied against them. For example, the law has been criticized because the definition puts the burden on the accused, who may face significant consequences - such as expulsion from college - that could follow the student for life despite not having adequate procedural protections during the process. The new definition of consent also does not address concerns raised by initial consent that is said to have been rescinded during the course of the sexual encounter.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
The attempt to deal with the rise in sexual assault reports seems to have caused a lot of backlash for accused students, facing public humiliation on campus whether or not they are found responsible for the accused conduct. In some cases, students have been expelled on very little evidence. Some of the accused students have tried to get justice through filing civil lawsuits, but that process is expensive and takes time, during which the student's educational career is often on hold.
The issue of campus sexual assaults is important and should be adequately addressed to ensure students of all genders are safe. However, accused student rights should also be preserved so as to avoid ruining the lives of young people who may be innocent.
Contact a Syracuse Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are a college student or the parent of a college student who is accused of a sexual assault, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal conviction can affect a young person's future for many years to come. Contact the experienced college student criminal defense attorney George Hildebrandt for a consultation.