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White House targets sexual assault on campus

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The Department sent schools a letter including reminders that:

  • Title IX protects students from all sexual harassment.
  • Schools need to have clear systems in place for grievances – and make sure students are aware of them.
  • A criminal investigation does not relieve the school of its own need to investigate any complaint, and schools must investigate complaints promptly, rather than waiting for the conclusion of a criminal investigation, as some have done in the past.
  • In evaluating cases, schools must use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof in meting out punishment – the standard used in civil lawsuits – as in, was it "more likely than not" that sexual violence occurred? Currently, some schools use the stronger “clear and convincing” standard generally used by the criminal courts.
  • All students who bring forward complaints must be informed that they have the right to an investigation. Schools must furthermore tell the complaining student the outcome of the investigation. In the past, some schools worried that this would violate the alleged perpetrator’s privacy rights.
  • At any hearing during the school’s Title IX investigation, all parties must have equal opportunity to present evidence and witnesses.

The letter also recommends numerous educational steps that schools can take to prevent sexual violence and harassment, and gives specific suggestions for ways the school can help a victim feel safe and get counseling during an investigation.

“This will help schools immeasurably in understanding what their responsibilities are. There’s no more shooting in the dark,” says Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the American Association of University Women. She notes that even though Title IX became law in 1972, this is the first time the Office of Civil Rights has come out with comprehensive policy on sexual violence. “It is a critical reminder, or wake-up call, for colleges and universities that this isn’t something that can be swept under the rug, and that is happening on their campuses.”

And not only on college campuses.

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