College sexual assault and sexual misconduct charges have never really been dealt with in a fair manner by universities. In the past, they were too lenient on the accused, preferring to sweep charges under the rug which resulted in the majority of sexual assault and misconduct cases going unreported. In the past decade or two, this has changed dramatically. Waves of women empowerment and movements such as the Me Too movement have made it easier for women to come forward and demand retribution of their abusers. There is no longer an overwhelming fear of being ostracized for stepping forward. Unfortunately, this power can be abused, sometimes even unintentionally. These days it’s actually the accused who suffers from unfair procedures when it comes to college sexual assault and misconduct. A student can more often than not be condemned and expelled for sexual misconduct or assault without any evidence other than an accusation. So if you’ve been charged with sexual assault or misconduct on campus, what should you do? What steps can you take to best represent yourself?
1. Understanding the University’s Procedure
Understand that the university’s procedure does not follow the same guidelines as a criminal trial would. You‘re not innocent until proven guilty. Generally, they just need to determine that you are more than likely guilty. In a situation of the alleged offender’s word against the victim’s word, the victim will likely get the benefit of the doubt. Understanding this is crucial. Don’t immediately tell all to the school investigator under the pretence that the truth will set you free. The investigator isn’t your friend and despite how your own perspective, your story could be incriminating rather than clearing your name.
2. Familiarize Yourself with Procedures
Familiarize yourself with your school’s specific procedures and process when it comes to sexual misconduct charges. What’s in their handbook? What type of promises do they guarantee their students? If they claim they allow hearings and refuse to give you one, this could be grounds for taking legal action against the school for breach of contract.
3. Seek Advice
Seek advice from a lawyer, a professor, or any professional familiar with such proceedings. Remember, being charged with sexual misconduct at a school is very different from a regular court. When seeking the advice of a lawyer, find someone who has a record of dealing with students and charges on campus. A trusted professor could be more useful than a lawyer who isn’t familiar with school procedures.
4. Gather Evidence
Review and preserve any communication you’ve had with the accuser. Are there text messages or emails showing a consensual relationship? That alone wouldn’t prove innocence since consent can be revoked at any time, but it would help you build a case to prove your innocence. Is the charge for an incident with a specific time and place? Find an alibi for that night, or any written communication that might prove otherwise. Did you talk to anyone about your relationship? You want to find witnesses. Anyone who may have seen you together, known your relationship, or was around during the time of the incident.
5. Understanding Motive
Try to see the accuser’s side of the story. If you are innocent, why would the accuser lie? False accusations are usually emotionally charged. The accuser may be acting out of anger after being rejected, jealousy after being cheated on, regret from the counter, or fear of repercussion from family or another love interest. It’s also possible there was a misunderstanding of consent, especially if either or both of you had been drinking. Understanding the accuser’s motive or view of what occurred will help you make sense of why you’re being charged and hopefully get to the truth of the matter.
6. Find Details of the Report
Find out exactly what you are being accused of and as many details of the reported incident as possible. Some schools may only give you a summary of the accuser’s statement or claims, which makes it difficult to disprove your innocence. Knowing the entire story will help you find discrepancies in the claim. If you’re being charged with sexual assault on campus (or sexual misconduct) by someone you’ve had multiple sexual encounters with than you need to know which specific encounter is being labelled as misconduct or assault and why.
7. Further Action?
Be ready to take further action if the school determines you are more than likely guilty and takes disciplinary actions such as suspension or expulsion. Lawsuits filed by alleged sexual perpetrators are costly to universities. The most common claim seen in these lawsuits is breach of contract. This is because schools often fail to follow it’s own processes guaranteed in its contract with each student. Threatening them with a lawsuit might persuade the school to follow its own disciplinary procedures for handling sexual misconduct charges on campus. It’s entirely up to you whether or not you want to pursue legal action, as long as you aren’t facing criminal charges as well. Make sure you’ve done your research to hire the right criminal defense lawyer if you do decide to go down this road. It won’t be an easy one.
Dealing with college sexual assault is, at best, a messy affair. It’s an extremely sensitive subject and somebody always seems to get the short end of the stick. Hopefully, there are fairer circumstances in the future. For now, follow this advice to best protect yourself after being charged with sexual assault or misconduct on campus.