Title IX hearings are used when allegations of sexual misconduct arise in schools across the state of California and the country. However, the system has considerable flaws.
The consequences of going through the process on both the accuser and the accused are often poorly understood by both. To help remedy the gap in understanding, this article aims to shed some light on the procedures and consequences of Title IX hearings in California schools, including:
Title IX procedures are not presented as traditional legal proceedings, and indeed, there is no requirement for the accused to have legal representation. Nor, if they do hire an attorney, will the attorney be able to take on the same role they might in a courtroom. But they are allowed an “advisor,” and that advisor can be, and should always be, a experienced Title IX defense attorney.
When you are first called in and given notification that you can bring an advisor, your school might advise you to bring an uncle, a counselor, or even a pastor to hold your hand. But if you are being accused of sexual misconduct, you do not need a hand-holder. You need an advocate. You need an attorney.
You need someone who will help you in the investigation. Someone to guide you through the process, help you understand what is at stake, how to represent yourself, and what happened to you in the context of the Title IX hearing.
What an advisor attorney can do depends on the school and their procedure, but their advice is invaluable. It should be mandatory and clear from the start that every kid accused of Title IX misconduct in California should have a criminal defense attorney at their side.
Especially because without one, neither the accused nor the alleged victim, nor either set of parents, might understand that other options are available.
One option that is poorly understood and, as a result, far too often discarded or not even considered is the pursuit of an informal resolution. This can only be done if all parties are in agreement, but it can spare everyone a grueling investigation, for which the results will always hurt one, if not both, kids involved.
Instead, they can agree to a counseling schedule, community service, a probation period at the school, or even a stay-away order. Anything both parties can agree on to keep them from having to go through the process. It will also keep the kid from getting labeled as a sexual deviant or predator, impacting the rest of their life.
Unfortunately, this can only be done if both parties agree, and it may come down to the accuser, how they are feeling, and what type of advice and counseling they are getting. After all, they might not realize just how harmful the process can be for them as well.
While schools often do an excellent job of being understanding and supportive, at least of the accuser and often of the accused as well, they do not do a good job explaining what the process will be like. Title IX investigations and hearings will be a very difficult and emotional process, for which the alternative is rarely discussed or presented.
Instead, both kids will end up being formally interviewed about incredibly intimate topics. They will have to testify and be challenged on their truthfulness and the details of their accounts. This can be incredibly traumatic, especially for the accuser, without them ever realizing they could have avoided it entirely.
Too often, law enforcement and Title IX hearing officers say to alleged victims, “You need to do this,” or “It will give you closure and make you feel better,” or that they owe it to help all other women. But the reality is none of that is always true. It might be for some, but for most, especially in these nebulous university Title IX cases, the opposite is often the case.
While you might be fed a narrative of being a heroine or a martyr, the truth is that the process is traumatizing and will very rarely treat you as a hero. You will get questioned about incredibly emotional and intimate topics. Someone might pounce on any ambiguity or altered details to accuse you of lying. Often, one or both kids will be drunk, memories will be unclear at best, and absent at worst.
It is tricky and sad to have to relive some of those incredibly difficult moments, especially when there are alternatives to deal with these events in a less confrontational and traumatic way. Alternatives that also will not impose the same severe, sometimes catastrophic consequences on the life of the accused.
The punishments are most severe if a Title IX case is also pursued in a criminal court, which is usually reserved for the most egregious cases.
Even if you are judged as a juvenile, you can be incarcerated until you are 23 years old. This can apply to anyone, even 17, 16, or 15-year-olds, who are accused of sexual assault. The sentence for sexual assault for adults normally ranges from three years to over a decade, depending on the aggravation and whether or not there was force or violence used.
This could very well mean spending most of your young adult life incarcerated or in a juvenile facility. The court might also require you to go through a sexual treatment program with other people who have been accused of similar things, some of whom truly need that treatment. All because of a horrible mistake.
Worse, having to spend time and be treated in such programs often does nothing to help most ordinary kids or even adults. Unfortunately, it can often leave them desensitized or even start to see themselves or become the person the program is intended for when they were not to begin with.
Fortunately, in most Title IX cases, the criminal justice system is not involved. You will not be facing incarceration, at least. But that does not mean the consequences will not be dire and drastic.
You will be vulnerable to being talked about, embarrassed, and even bullied. Many end up becoming suicidal as their life and future go up in flames.
For example, imagine you are on the football team in your junior year, getting ready to go to the playoffs. Suddenly, you are accused of sexual misconduct. You will be pulled off the team and taken out of school entirely, and you are only 16 or 17 years old. Your whole identity has just been erased, and now posts on social media are calling you a rapist.
It is horrible. Even though there is no clear picture of what happened, your life has now been defined by this one event despite all the gray areas. It becomes about context and perception.
The same is true for kids in college. You might be getting ready to graduate with honors and instead find yourself removed from school and expelled, unable to return for two years. Your educational path is knocked off course, and maybe even your career chances are ruined.
These sanctions are horrible in either case, for Title IX school investigations and for criminal cases. Yet often, the process brings no closure and only more trauma for the victim as well. This is why it is so important for schools to work to avoid these situations in the first place. It is also crucial for both parties involved to be presented with a clear picture of what will happen by a trained attorney, and for everyone to consider informal alternatives. For more information on Legal Counsel In A California Title IX Case, an initial consultation is your next best step.