Campuses across the nation handle sexual abuse protocols and procedures differently when faced with allegations of sexual abuse. This difference is even more pronounced when it’s regarding an administrator vs. student as opposed to student vs. student.
Notorious for being breeding grounds for sexual assault, college and university campuses struggle with holding perpetrators accountable. Schools also handle their investigation protocols differently when the alleged perpetrator is a school employee rather than a student.
While universities have a duty to abide by civil rights laws codified in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 with regard to sexual abuse and harassment cases.Title IX bans discrimination in education on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment or violence. Whether intentional or not, universities must recognize that they themselves play a part in the pervasiveness of sexual assault on their campuses and how their failures in handling complaints may be not only shielding those who are accused, but also providing the sword for future abuse.
Protection of the school’s public image and reputation is the motivating reason why most institutions fail to hold their faculty members or administration accountable for their wrongdoings. Part of this failure includes the failure to address complaints in a serious manner, and a lack of sound investigation protocols, including assigning untrained investigators. These failures have the effect of protecting the interests of the institution over that of the harmed.
Due to prior institutional sex abuse cases receiving press and media coverage, the Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations, also called the (ALERT) Act, is being introduced by legislators in the United States Senate. This will require university leaders to certify that they have reviewed reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by university employees, no longer allowing those at the top to disclaim knowledge that abuse was occurring. University leaders in the past failed to take action or claimed that they did not know about reports of abuse done by their employees, such as in the cases of Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky (both charged with sexual abuse charges). This phenomenon demonstrates why these new requirements are essential.
Politicians and experts argue that the hiding or minimization of sexual assault claims by universities is commonly done to avoid damage to their reputations. The Campus Accountability & Safety Act was introduced in February by a bipartisan group of senators to Congress, in which schools could be fined up to $150,000 if they fail to submit detailed sexual violence reports. Universities that don’t comply with the bill could be fined up to 1% of the school’s operating budget.
It comes to no surprise that universities go about addressing sexual assault litigation differently and keep their methods private for the most part. Some schools have their in-house counsel handle the suits and some hire outside legal experts. These universities can easily face six figure payouts if sued for mishandling sexual assault cases; in recent years universities have started paying for insurance to cover sexual assault payouts. In a 2019 report by Journalist Research, individual rape victims reportedly encounter an estimated lifetime economic cost of $122,461. The lifetime economic cost of rape across all U.S. victims is nearly $3.1 trillion.
In the event that a student is accused of sexual abuse towards another student, universities also tend to shy away from addressing the issue properly. Many arguments are made advocating for self-defense classes, educational speakers, marches, and workshops. However, many campuses tend to disregard these potential resources as they come with high costs to the school. The implementation of these programs, however, can put a reliable system in place to train faculty, staff, and students about these harmful issues and give them the means to address them.
When students are accused of sexual abuse, a more defined procedure is usually in place to address the alleged misconduct. If a formal complaint is filed, the accused student may be contacted for an informal discussion. In some cases, the issue may be resolved then and there. Where accusations are more serious, the school’s disciplinary body will investigate and a formal hearing will be called. This formal meeting will include the complaints made against the accused student and any evidence that has been found, the accused will then be able to provide their side. The disciplinary body will then review the information from the hearing and make a determination and recommendation of punishment. The student will be notified of the decision and be given a window of time to appeal if applicable.
Even in the case of a student perpetrator, outside factors may come into play which will determine the course or thoroughness of a university’s decision to investigate. For example, if a student’s family is a prominent donor to the university or recognized alumni, the procedures may be slightly different. If the accused is a notable athlete on a university sports team, corners may be cut to sweep allegations under the rug. Through litigation and legislation, many new laws are being established and new protocols being implemented to limit biased investigations of sexual assault and failures to report on these incidents.
Add a paragraph about cases where the perpetrator is an employee – use USC as case study!
Arias Sanguinetti can provide assistance to students whose campuses and universities have failed in advocating for them after disclosing sexual abuse. If you or someone you know has reported sexual misconduct to a school or university contact Arias Sanguinetti at