Sexual Abuse at Ohio Colleges and Universities

#metoo

According to the US Department of Justice, one out of every four female undergraduate students will be a victim of some form of sexual assault before graduation.

Yet sexual abuse at Ohio colleges and universities is chronically under-reported. The ACLU estimates that 95% of campus rapes in the U.S. go unreported.

Title IX Prohibits Sexual Abuse at Ohio Colleges and Universities

On today’s college and university campuses, students are legally protected from sexual misconduct under Title IX, a 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in an educational program or activity that receives federal funding.

Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault. If a college or university receives federal funding and knows about and ignores sexual assault or harassment in its programs or activities, the college or university may be held responsible in court regardless of whether the sexual misconduct was committed by a faculty member, staff, or a student.

Sexual harassment can qualify as discrimination under Title IX if it is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”

‘Sexual assault’ applies to a broad range of forced and unwanted sexual activity ranging from forced and unwanted sexual touching to rape, which is generally defined as forced penetration of a victim’s body against their will.

Sexual Abuse at Ohio Colleges and Universities is Often Unreported

Most victims of sexual assault at Ohio colleges and universities know their assailant. This factor could contribute to the under-reporting of sexual abuse at Ohio colleges and universities as victims fear that they will be ostracized or won’t be believed.

Colleges and universities have taken steps to prevent acts of sexual violence on campus by increasing the presence of security officers, initiating bystander intervention programs, and educating students on the meaning of “consent.”

Although responsibility for sexual assault lies with the perpetrator, there are ways to reduce risk of sexual assault. But once a sexual assault has occurred on an Ohio college or university campus, there are steps you can take to hold the perpetrator and the college or university responsible.

The college or university can be held responsible if it had authority over the harasser or over the environment in which the harassment took place.

The school can also be held liable if its response to the harassment “is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” Likewise, a college or university can be held liable for sexual misconduct if the victim can show that the college or university acted with deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment in its programs or activities.

Title IX requires that the administration respond to victims’ needs and take action to protect students. If the college or university fails to do so, it could be held liable under the “deliberate indifference” requirement of Title IX.

Students Accused of Sexual Abuse Claim They Are Denied Due Process

Students accused of sexual misconduct, their families, and their lawyers have argued that students accused of sexual misconduct on Ohio college and university campuses are being denied due process rights.

Students accused of sexual misconduct on a college or university campus often cannot ask witnesses questions directly in interviews or hearings. A witness may choose to remain anonymous and, unlike in a criminal prosecution, the witness’s identity will not be shared with the accused or their counsel.

Since 2011, when the Obama administration's U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights wrote the "Dear Colleague" letter urging colleges and universities to apply a preponderance of the evidence standard when deciding whether to discipline a student who is accused of sexual misconduct, a student accused of sexual misconduct can be punished if it is “more likely than not” that the sexual misconduct occurred.

Lawyers for students accused of sexual misconduct have argued that this standard is too low, and that clear and convincing evidence, which requires a higher probability but is less than beyond a reasonable doubt, would be a more appropriate evidentiary standard due to the severe consequences of a finding by a college or university disciplinary counsel.

The American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL) argues that schools must provide due process, and claims that many campus investigative and disciplinary procedures are “fundamentally unfair” to students accused of sexual misconduct.

The ACTL has proposed that colleges implement a disciplinary system for students accused of sexual misconduct that would:

  • provide a fair and impartial investigation by qualified fact-finders
  • give students the right to be advised and accompanied by counsel
  • some form of cross-examination
  • the ability to examine evidence and receive adequate written fact findings, and
  • to apply a clear and convincing evidence standard.

The ACTL believes that these procedural safeguards would ensure procedural justice and confidence of the participants and the public with regard to the fairness of Title IX investigations.

However, many others argue that schools are too easy on students who engage in sexual misconduct on campus and note that the goals of campus investigations are different than the objectives of the criminal justice system.

If You Were a Victim of Sexual at an Ohio College or University, Robenalt Law Can Help

If you were a victim of sexual abuse at an Ohio college or university, contact a college and university sexual abuse attorney at Robenalt Law today. Call 216-223-7535, complete our online form, or email trobenalt@robenaltlaw.com.

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career defending institutions of higher education at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 20 years, he has used that experience to help Ohio consumers obtain the damages to which they are entitled.

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