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Sexual Assault Part I: The Changes in School Policy and Procedure

by  on  News & Resources

Sexual assault on college campuses is a hot-button topic today. Several studies have produced scary–and somewhat questionable–statistics on the magnitude of the problem facing college students and administrators. But no matter what the true number of assaults, the fact remains that sexual violence is a horrible issue confronting universities across the country. 

Equally problematic is the response by many universities to the reporting of sexual assaults by students, most of whom are female. Many women feel that their allegations are not taken seriously and their assailants are not punished adequately.

The outrage over the frequency of assaults and the handling of the allegations led to federal investigations of colleges across the country. A school’s policies on handling sexual assault and violence must comport with the requirements Title IX. Otherwise, federal funding for a school can be denied. Your Denver personal injury attorney notes that when this topic was last discussed, the sweeping federal investigations were just beginning, and 55 schools were listed as subjects of inquiry. As of October 2014, the number of schools being investigated had risen to 89, representing a 50 percent growth. 

In assessing the impact of the federal investigations on schools’ policies, it is important to keep in mind a potential game-changer. As part of the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), President Obama signed the Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE) into law on March 7, 2013, to be enforced as of March of 2014. 

SaVE can now be used by victims for the following purposes: (1) to require schools to report a broader range of sexual violence incidents occurring on campus, including all forms of domestic violence and stalking, and to improve the complaint process for victims (including obtaining information on orders of protection, confidentiality in the reporting process, and mental health services) and (2) to require an equitable disciplinary proceeding. In addition, SaVE offers schools federal resources to improve practices and requires education and awareness programs on campus.

Correction or Over-Correction?

One of the changes adopted by many colleges is the requirement of affirmative consent. The “yes means yes” policy was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown, and New Jersey and New Hampshire legislatures are considering adopting similar measures. Governor Cuomo of New York made the “yes means yes” policy mandatory in all Southern University of New York (SUNY) campuses. Dartmouth and Yale have affirmative consent policies, and the movement is growing.

Another result of the federal investigations into sexual assault policy is a change in the standard of proof in hearings on violations. Replacing the previous standard of clear and convincing evidence, the lesser standard of a preponderance of the evidence has now been widely adopted. 

Although proponents of the new policy and process hope the changes will prevent sexual assaults and provide a more equitable environment in which to deal with allegations, not everyone is a fan.

Contact Your Attorney

If you have been the victim of a sexual assault on a college campus, contact Jordan Levine to discuss your legal rights.