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What should you know about the new Title IX sexual assault rules?

The Department of Education is finalizing a new set of rules for Title IX concerns. When released, they could have a huge impact on students accused of sexual assault at the University of Colorado and other public schools.

According to The Washington Post, Title IX requires schools to investigate and act on reports of sexual misconduct. But the standards for Title IX investigations are different than for criminal trials. Under the old rules, students accused of misconduct often had limited rights, even though their cases could result in serious consequences. The new rules focus more on due process.

What is Title IX?

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that targets sex discrimination in schools. Its introduction reads:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX applies to sexual assault and sexual misconduct in schools because the government views them as forms of sex discrimination.

Why has Title IX been a problem for people accused of sexual misconduct?

Because Title IX is a civil rights law, rather than a criminal code, Title IX charges come with different standards than criminal charges. Some of the more notable differences include:

  • People accused of criminal charges are innocent until a jury finds them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Under Title IX, the accused doesn’t get the benefit of a jury trial. The school appoints a hearing panel.
  • Title IX accusers only need to convince their panels that their stories are more likely true than false.

These lower standards have led to situations in which students and faculty were suspended, expelled or fired without ever getting to question their accusers. They could lose their jobs, their tuition and months or years of their time without enjoying many of the defenses they would have in criminal court.

How might the new changes help?

As the Post reports, the new rules will change Title IX hearings in several ways. These include:

  • A new, stricter definition for sexual harassment or assault. It sets a standard for severity that was lacking from the earlier definition.
  • Schools are given the option to judge cases at a higher standard. They can demand “clear and convincing” evidence, rather than just decide if stories were likely true.
  • The accused will be given the chance to have agents or attorneys cross-examine witnesses. This may help panels see where accusers’ stories fail to hold together.

Supporters claim these changes should better promote justice for both the accuser and the accused. How each state and each impacted university will implement the new rules remains a bit of an unknown.