How Title IX (9) Protects Victims of Sexual Assault in Schools
Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Nearly all of the schools in West Virginia have a Title IX program that ensures the university or college complies with federal law. Schools are required to implement policies consistent with Title IX that applies to both students and faculty. One area of Title IX that directly involves Legal Aid is the handling of reports of sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a form of sex-discrimination. Each school has its own policies that defines sexual assault, and it may be different than the criminal definition of sexual assault used in local criminal law. However, the process amongst the schools in reporting and handling sexual assault allegations on educational campuses are very similar. A report of a sexual assault involving students will trigger Title IX. A person reporting an incident of sexual assault, usually the victim, is called the Complainant. The person alleged to have perpetrated the sexual assault is called the Respondent. Each school has a Title IX coordinator who ensures that steps are taken to ensure the safety of the Complainant and rights of Respondent. Both parties have the rights to have an attorney represent them. Legal Aid has provided services to Complainants in guiding them through the Title IX process and help them make critical decision that are in their best interest.
Once a Complainant reports a sexual assault, an investigation is conducted. The investigation is completed by an investigator who is responsible for interviewing all persons involved and gathering evidence and producing a final report. Both parties have the opportunity to review and propose amendments to the report before it is finalized. Amendments can include providing other witness for the investigator to interview, offering additional evidence, or clarifying their own statement. Title IX complaint can be resolved in two ways: formal and informal resolution. Informal resolution requires the consent of both parties. The goal of the informal resolution is to mediate an agreement between the parties. Informal resolution agreements can include almost anything so long as it is consistent with Title IX and that school’s policies.
However, a formal resolution process is like a court trial. During the formal process, both sides present their case in front of a hearing officer. The hearing officer is usually a lawyer that is hired by the school. Evidence and testimony are presented by both sides and, like a bench trial, the hearing officer will decide if the complainant has proven that the respondent committed an act of sexual assault as defined by the school. If the respondent is found responsible, then adverse administrative action is taken, which can mean suspension or expulsion. However, if he is not found responsible, then no further action is taken, and the complaint is dismissed.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault in local schools, colleges, or universities, please know that there are resources available for you. First, it would be a good idea to contact your local sexual assault help center. If you do not know how to contact your local sexual assault help center, contact Legal Aid of West Virginia at 1-866-255-4370 or complete an intake online at www.lawv.net, and we can guide you to resources in your area while also offering insight, advice, and possible representation in your Title IX hearings.