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The most important thing to tell your college age student about Title IX and sexual assault on campus

Do you have a kid heading to college?  Once he or she arrives on campus, the student will hear a lot from the school administration about Title IX.  But there is one thing the school will not emphasize or likely even say:  tell your parents if you are a victim of, or are accused of committing, sexual assault.  I can’t tell you how many kids I see in these cases who are handling the prosecution or defense of a Title IX sexual assault case on their own or with the help of friends.   I have interviewed and taken sworn statements from student witnesses whose parents have no idea that their child is talking to a lawyer.   Make no mistake:  Title IX investigations and hearings are serious matters, with serious consequences.  College kids simply are not equipped to handle them on their own.

For the parents of boys:  I know it is unthinkable that your son could be accused of sexual assault.   Every parent I talk to in that position is shocked.  But if it happens, your son needs to know that he can level with you so that you can get him help.   If it is a public university and the matter makes it to a hearing (the majority of them do), he will be required to defend himself against the charge by presenting his own testimony and that of witnesses.  And it will look a lot like the Kavanaugh hearings.  Essentially, your son will be on trial for rape but, unlike Kavanaugh, your son is not an experienced lawyer and will be trying to figure it out on his own.

For the parents of girls:  If your daughter is the victim of sexual assault, then she needs to report it.  But these girls and often their friends run a very real risk of exposing themselves to lawsuits for defamation if they get swept up in the drama of the situation and start talking to other students about it, and especially if they begin commenting about the situation and the investigation on social media or in text exchanges.  These girls (and boys) often do not realize that their text messages and other communications to other students are not necessarily privileged and can be used against them.  If an accused student gets a hold of these communications and decides to sue for defamation, guess who gets to pay that judgment?  You do.  And you’d better hope that your homeowner’s insurance policy is high enough to cover it.

Every college and university campus is required to provide resources for students involved in Title IX sexual assault cases.   But I have yet to see a campus that advises these kids on how to defend themselves against these accusations or that counsels the parties and witnesses on how to conduct themselves to avoid liability outside of the school process.  That’s why it is so important for you to tell your son or daughter to call you if he or she ends up involved in a Title IX issue, even if it is just helping a friend.

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