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Campus Sexual Assault: Institutions of Higher Learning are Facing Tremendous Challenges

| Feb 27, 2015 | Criminal Law |

College is an exceptionally important time in a person’s educational development. It provides the opportunity to study subject matters of interest, acquire skills for a career, and experience personal growth. As of late, however, college campus sexual assault has attracted attention in the media.

Campus Sexual Assault in the Media

A PBS Newshour article cites Justice Department figures that say four out of five campus sexual assault victims do not contact law enforcement. Despite intuition, approximately seventeen percent of student victims were men. Reasons for lack of reporting to law enforcement include fear of retaliation and a perception that the authorities cannot help victims. With this new information coming to surface, many colleges and universities are facing pressure from the federal Department of Education to take vigorous action to deal with campus sexual assault. Some argue that because the activities are crimes, they should be handled by law enforcement and schools should stay apart from the issue. One counterargument is that colleges and universities need to keep their students safe and manage the issue independently.

As reported by the Huffington Post, a major obstacle for academic institutions is defining what campus sexual assault is. The Department of Education has not defined the term, leaving institutions with the burden of deciding how to draw the line on what is included within the definition. To compound the issue, when alcohol becomes involved, the notion of “consent” can become challenging to measure. One thing is certain — the Department of Education wants academic institutions to be tough on sexual assault. And the fear of losing federal funds for violating federal law is prompting universities to invoke broad interpretations of the term.

Another startling aspect of the disciplinary hearings are the lax procedures which are in place. Unlike a criminal proceeding which includes judges, rules of evidence, discovery, and various other protections, disciplinary actions lack these basic formalities designed to safeguard the accused.

The adjudication procedures are criticized as miscarriages of justice whereby due process simply does not exist. Sixteen University of Pennsylvania law professors signed a letter protesting the school’s sexual assault policies – following similar criticisms in a signed letter by twenty-eight Harvard law school faculty.

DOJ and New York Sex Offense Basics

The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women defines sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

Article 130 of the New York Penal Law focuses on sex offenses. These offenses include, but are not limited to: Forcible Touching, Rape, Criminal Sexual Acts, and Aggravated Sexual Abuse. The statutes are complex and triggered by a variety of factors. The age of the defendant, the age of the victim, and the capacity to consent often change the degree of the offense. Punishment for sex offenses may include Sex Offender Registration and prison time.

The complexities involved in sex offense charges are subtle. If you are a college student and have been accused of a sex offense, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately who will review your case and evaluate all the possible defenses which may be applicable to your circumstances.

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