What to do after Sexual Assault or Misconduct on a College Campus

Mark Peters & Lesley Brovner
December 21, 2022

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) the leading advocacy group in this area, 26-percent of female college students and almost 7-percent of male college students will suffer some form of sexual assault during their undergraduate years. Many of these students, however, will never report the assault to the authorities.

The decision to report the assault, either to law enforcement or college officials, is a serious and highly personal one. What follows is some information concerning what constitutes an assault and what college officials are required to do if the assault is reported to them.

What is Sexual Assault?

The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent of the victim. In New York State, criminal sexual assault is covered by Sections 130 of the Penal Code, which includes a variety of crimes covering various sexual acts, such as:

  • Rape (PL§130.25, §130.30, §130.35)
  • Criminal Sexual Acts (Forced Anal or Oral Sex) (PL §130.40, PL §130.45, PL §130.50)
  • Facilitating a Sexual Offense with a Controlled Substance (PL §130.90)
  • Sexual Abuse (Unwanted sexual contact) (PL §130.55, PL §130.60, PL §130.65)

Reporting Sexual Misconduct to a College or University

Sexual assault in schools and on campus is, among other things, a fundamental civil rights issue: When students suffer sexual assault, they are deprived of equal and free access to an education.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding. This covers the vast majority of both private and public schools.

Title IX provides, “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 is an important mechanism available for students who want to combat sexual assault or harassment at school and on college campuses.

Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual assault. As such, schools are required by law to:

  • Have internal Title IX complaint procedures to promptly and equitably resolve complaints (Cases of sexual violence may not be handled through medication; there must be a formal hearing process)
  • Designate a Title IX office with at least one employee as the Title IX coordinator
  • Make available its policies on sexual assault and harassment, including its policies on how to make formal complaint
  • Be responsive to complaints and take steps to prevent future assaults and discrimination.
  • Provide support and security for survivors of sexual violence
  • Ensure that there is no retaliation again those making Title IX complaints

Requirements for Institutions When Sexual Assault Is Reported

Once a school is made aware of a sexual assault, colleges must take immediate steps to address the issue.

The institution must also take actions to prevent the violence, harassment, or discrimination from happening again. These actions may include:

  • Issuing no-contact orders to the accused
  • Making reasonable changes to the schedules, housing arrangements, and/or extracurricular activities of the survivor; and
  • Otherwise protecting the right to an education free of violence, discrimination, or harassment.
  • If certain accommodations are deemed necessary, the school, not the complaining student, must pay all applicable costs.

When Is a School or University Liable for Sexual Assault?

According to the federal Department of Education, schools have a number of obligations in regard to addressing sexual assault:

A school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively.

If a school knows or reasonably should know about sexual harassment or sexual violence or threats of sexual violence, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the sexual harassment or sexual violence, prevent its occurrence (where it was previously threatened) or recurrence, and address its effects.

Even if a student or his or her parent does not want to file a complaint or does not request that the school take any action on the student’s behalf, if a school knows or reasonably should know about possible sexual harassment or sexual violence, it must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation.

A criminal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.

Schools and Universities can sometimes be liable for sexual assault that occur on campus.

For example, liability may exist when a school:

  • Fails to provide proper student safety and security.
  • Fails to take action despite warning signs that a school-sponsored organization, such as a fraternity or sports team, engages in conduct involving sexual assault
  • Fails to respond appropriately after being warned that a student or staff member has threatened or harassed a student, or otherwise ignores reports of sexual assault or sexual harassment, they could be liable if a subsequent assault then occurs.
  • Admits a student who it knows has a history of sexual assault and allows that student to live in student housing or otherwise participate in certain other student activities.

If You Have a Sexual Assault Case, Our Attorneys Can Help

If you have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment on a college campus in New York State, and want advice on your legal options, contact the lawyers at Peters Brovner LLP who have experience with these issues for a free consultation.