Many students and their parents are shocked to learn that it is possible to be accused of violating Title IX policies for events they did not participate in.
In a recent case of mine, a student was at a party and heard a rumor that other students were engaged in sexual activity in a men’s restroom. He did not enter the restroom or see the sexual activity. Someone witnessed and made a video of the sexual activity which was sent to many other people via social media, including the student whom I advised. My student immediately deleted the video. He never asked for the video and did not even know it existed until it was sent to him. He never showed the video to anyone and never discussed it with anyone.
Much to the student’s surprise, he was subjected to a Title IX investigation. The investigator told him that she had received information from other witnesses that he was “involved in the dissemination of the video.” Despite telling the investigator at the outset that he had no idea the video existed until it was sent to him and he immediately deleted it when he received it, the investigation continued.
At my suggestion, the student asked who had claimed he was involved in disseminating the video and what evidence these persons had. He was never told who these alleged witnesses were, what they had said, and whether or not they produced any evidence, such as screen shots, showing that he had sent someone the video.
Since the student had emphatically stated that he had nothing to do with making or disseminating the video, he was also accused of making false statements to the investigator. At my suggestion, he also asked her to specify what statements of his were allegedly false, what information she had to suggest that they were false statements, and who had supplied any evidence that his statements were false. She did not provide any of the requested information.
Although the student was ultimately cleared of the accusation, the process was a nightmare for himself and his family. He had no guarantee he would get a favorable result, and he faced suspension or worse if the decision went against him.
While the above case seems extreme, it is not uncommon. I have worked with other students who became accused of violating Title IX policy based on rumors that were told to the Title IX investigator, or based on unsubstantiated witness statements. Again, once an investigation is triggered, there is no guarantee that the result will be favorable.
Another issue that often results in a student being accused of violating Title IX is “failure to report.” Although the student described above was cleared of the investigation, he was lectured by the Title IX coordinator for not reporting the incident. Most universities require all faculty and other employees, as well as some students, such as Residence Advisors, to report all potential violations of Title IX that they become aware of. A few universities impose this requirement on every student, faculty, and staff member. This duty may place students in jeopardy of being penalized for not reporting a rumor they have heard on campus. For this reason, I recommend that every student become thoroughly familiar with the University Title IX Policy.
If a student is accused of violating any aspect of the University Title IX policy, the risks of failing to prepare thoroughly for the investigation are severe. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you seek a professional Title IX advisor.