Knowledge of your student’s resources on campus is one strategic way you can support them in a successful college experience.
Although you and your student’s campus administrators do everything possible to prevent them from encountering sexual assault on campus, the process and people involved in an investigation may be helpful knowledge, even if only to know the landscape of student support on college campuses generally.
If your student has reported experiencing sexual violence to any of the support offices on campus, it is important to be aware of what the investigation process will generally include. Likewise, if your student is accused of perpetrating an act of sexual violence, you need to be prepared and educated about their rights and responsibilities. Although the resources on this page have been written with the guidance of legal experts and industry professionals, the information does not constitute legal advice.
First, it’s important to know that a Title IX investigation is considered an administrative process and not a legal one; it’s different than a court of law. It’s also important to know that any institution’s Title IX investigation process is subject to the authority of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Education. Although each institution will develop its unique policies and processes, any institution that receives Federal funding is also subject to the rules and guidelines published by OCR. This oversight means that students can file complaints with OCR if they feel their rights have been violated by their institution.
The next thing you need to know is that there are significant legal differences between public and private institutions. Public institutions are governed by due process requirements of the fifth amendment and private institutions are governed more by a legal concept called fundamental fairness. Because of a particular State’s case law, this distinction may be less pronounced in some states like California, but it highlights the importance of knowing your institution’s individual policies.
Regardless of whether or not your student is attending a public or private institution, there are some universal requirements an institution must provide for all students involved in the process. OCR has consistently underscored the importance of ensuring the process is equal for both the Complainant (victim or survivor) and the Respondent (accused student). Important aspects of any investigation include the following:
- Supportive Measures — An investigation is stressful and may significantly impact a student’s ability to focus in the classroom. If your student is going through one of these processes, encourage them to speak with support offices about what remedies are available to them. These remedies may include rescheduling classes, tests, or no-contact directives.
- Notice of Investigation — Federal law requires that both parties be given a copy of the notice of investigation. This notice needs to provide enough specific information about the details of the allegation so that the accused student is able to appropriately respond to the allegations.
- Reviewing the Evidence — Each of the parties is allowed to review all of the information which may be considered as part of the Title IX investigation. The specifics of how this review process happens will vary considerably by institution, but this is something a student can ask about at the beginning of the process.
- Final Investigative Report — At the end of the investigation, most institutions are required to provide both parties with a copy of the investigative report. Again, the details and requirements of what is included in the report will be different from one school to the next, but this is something else that a student can ask about early on in the process.
Advisors are an essential aspect of the investigation process and serve an important role. They may be called process advisors, advocates, counselors, or some other term unique to an institution. As a parent, you are typically allowed to serve in this capacity and a lawyer could also serve this role. An advisor’s main role is to support the student who is going through the process and students often have the freedom to choose an advisor who fits their most pressing needs. Sometimes that means they need their parent, other times that means they need a counselor, and sometimes they may feel they need a lawyer present. Any one of these people should be allowed to serve the role of advisor.
Along with knowing about the freedom provided by who can fill this role, it’s also important to understand the two significant ways in which this role is limited in an investigation process. First, most schools will limit students to only having one advisor present during interviews and meetings. This limitation means there may be some hard choices for both you and your student to make if you’re in going through an investigation and it’s important to have those conversations upfront and early on. Second, unlike a criminal process, the advisor does not represent the student or speak for them. The advisors in the process are primarily to support the student; their presence is their participation.