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New Title IX provisions add court-like hearing for the accused, victims of sexual misconduct

New Title IX provisions add court-like hearing for the accused, victims of sexual misconduct

New Title IX provisions add court-like hearing for the accused, victims of sexual misconduct
September 11
14:00 2020

Students accused of Title IX sexual harassment, which includes sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, will receive due process rights from the new Title IX regulations implemented by the U.S. Department of Education in August.

The optional hearing will mimic a trial by allowing both parties to state their side of the story, introduce evidence and provide witnesses. At the end, a hearing officer will decide if the respondent is responsible or not. 

“It is good to allow the parties to have the opportunity to testify to get their entire story out,” Title IX Coordinator Eve Shatteen Bell said. “I think it will give the fact-finders or the decision-makers the opportunity to look at the evidence in a way that we haven’t been able to before, and I hope that ends up to be a positive thing.”

Deputy Title IX Coordinator and Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Maureen McGuinness said she worries about the potential stress of the live hearing.

“I struggle with the burden it’s going to put on both parties,” McGuinness said. “A survivor confronting their [abuser] and a person being accused of something and sitting across the table from someone that has made those accusations.”

Bell said complainants or respondents can choose to have an informal process — mediation — rather than the hearing. Complainants will also have the opportunity to discontinue the hearing. But the university may still decide to move forward with the investigation if discontinuing would have greater implications on the university.

“Regardless of whether you would want to go through the live hearing, there’s still a lot of stuff we could do for you,” Bell said. “We can move your dorm [or] get you out of classes. We can put in place any kind of system of supporting measures if you don’t want to go through that live hearing.”

Biology freshman Elias Chavarria said he is in favor of the university taking action in order to send a clear message to students about their role with cases of sexual harassment.

“I think by coming to real justice and punishing the perpetrators, there can be a safer environment for the victims/survivors,” Chavarria said. “It can show them that if they do come forward, there will be justice.”

There are two processes for how the university handles sexual misconduct. In order to investigate a sexual misconduct report per the Title IX regulations, the report must be a penetration offense (sexual assault), stalking, dating violence or sexual harassment that is severe, pervasive and objectively offensive (SPOO). Other instances of sexual harassment not regarded as SPOO are investigated per the code of conduct. 

“[We] are concerned that students will not want to go through this process because it’s a lot,” Bell said. “It’s cumbersome, it’s confusing, it’s new — it’s new to us too — and it requires direct confrontation of the person who allegedly did these things to you or the person who accused you of these things.” 

Media arts junior Paige Moody said she thinks the hearing will better promote fairness in investigating sexual misconduct.

“I do believe both sides should be able to state their case in a court-like hearing because false accusations do exist,” Moody said. “But it is a tough situation. I believe that going through this process would be emotionally hard on both sides but it is necessary.” 

Chavarria said the hearing might cause an unnecessary toll on the complainant. 

“I think the survivors would feel embarrassed and scared at the thought of having to see their abuser,” Chavarria said. “I think the victim would feel very intimidated and if other victims saw that, it would discourage them from coming forward.” 

McGuiness said changes in Title IX have not shifted their attitude toward addressing instances of sexual misconduct.

“It does give the pendulum swings a little closer to the middle to give both sides fairness,” McGuinness said. “It’s brought a little bit of fairness, and I think that’s what the [regulations] are trying to do. [But] just because the [regulations] changed doesn’t mean our response in addressing behavior has changed.”

Featured image:A student works on a laptop in the CVAD building on Apr 10, 2019. Changes to Title IX rules may impact rulings on cases of alleged sexual assault. Image by Samuel Gomez

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Makayla Herron

Makayla Herron

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