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Student Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Allegations

If you are a student at a college or university, the following is important information you should know regarding sexual harassment and misconduct allegations and what they could mean for your college career. If you have already been accused of any of these allegation, consult with a student defense attorney in Virginia to further discuss your options and what you should expect going forward.

Scenarios Where Student Sexual Misconduct Could Occur

Anyone that is going to college or who has attended college can think of scenarios in which there is the danger for allegations of sexual misconduct.  For instance:

  • At fraternity parties where there is a lot of drinking and drug abuse going on and people going off together to a private area
  • People living in dorms together or houses in which there are multiple people and there is not really lot of privacy
  • Situations in which there are people in locker rooms

Anywhere where someone is in a vulnerable position either by ingesting alcohol or drugs or being in a situation where they think that they are in a private room or shower, there are going to be opportunities where either true allegations or false allegations could arise.

Harassment and Misconduct: What Do These Terms Mean?

Those terms are defined by the student code of conduct, but in general terms, anything that makes another person feel uncomfortable that is sexual in nature is going to be defined as sexual harassment.

This includes repetitive behavior that is unwanted, such as following somebody around who has made it clear that they have no interest in the other person.

Alternatively, these allegations could arise from online “stalking” on Facebook or another form of social media. That would also entail a person pretending to be someone they are not online in order to be able to delve into the privacy of a targeted individual.

Those types of things that are not quite criminal, but could lead to criminal charges down the road would constitute sexual harassment.  Anything that makes another person feel uncomfortable or that involves unwanted sexual advances or actual actions, but does not meet criminal sexual assault.

Who Defines What Sexual Harassment Means on Campus?

Generally speaking colleges or universities will have an office of student conduct and a handbook that will list the student code of conduct. Included in this is, typically is where there will be mentions of the specific type of sexual behavior or conduct that is not tolerated and the process for making a complaint. The process of what happens once somebody is accused of sexual misconduct is likely also outlined. All of this information should be published somewhere, usually online or on the university’s office or student conduct’s website.

What School Boards or Individuals Are Involved in Harassment Cases?

An investigator or a caseworker from the university’s office of student conduct will be in charge of processing the complaint. This entails conducting interviews and making a determination whether the complaint is legitimate and supported by evidence.

They will also make a determination of the consequences after administrative hearings. Each university or college is going to have their own rules for these hearings.  An accused should be aware of what their rights or responsibilities are. If they are allowed to have legal counsel, if they are  allowed to be present during the hearing, and whether counsel would be permitted to actually advocate at the hearing. However, even if an attorney is not permitted in the hearing, a lawyer can help you strategize about how to handle the case.

First Steps After Being Accused of Harassment on Campus

Individuals should absolutely not try to reach out to the complaining witness or any of the complaining witness’ friends or family nor should that person make any statements about the allegations to anyone other than the attorney.

The individual should seek the advice of an attorney because of attorney-client privilege. This means the privilege of having those statements protected is only going to be between the accused person and a lawyer, not between their parents, their girlfriends, or their student counselor.

Contacting an Attorney in Campus Sexual Misconduct Cases

They should contact a lawyer immediately. The lawyer is going to be of help to guide them through the administrative process. If there is a criminal investigation, then a lawyer can guide them through that as well by advising them along the way how to conduct themselves, who to speak with and who not to speak with, and when and what to say. The lawyer will also advise about what is likely to happen to them in the future, what the different scenarios are, what is the worst case, what is the best case and what are the consequences of the criminal charges and a conviction or what are the administrative school consequences. It is never too early to speak with an attorney and begin discussing your case.

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