Few issues generate more controversy on college and university campuses than sexual misconduct. Students, faculty and staff confront this issue with disturbing regularity. Incidents of alleged sexual assault and other misconduct can divide university communities and damage the lives and reputations of individuals and institutions.
Institutional response to allegations of sexual misconduct is both essential and risky. How a college or university adjudicates complaints of misconduct, provides resources for victims and educates its community about these issues can have legal, reputational and financial consequences. In response to recent guidance from federal, state and local governments, every institution of higher learning needs to ensure it has implemented timely and effective protocols to address this issue.
Every college and university receiving federal funds must comply with a complex set of regulations that apply when allegations of sexual misconduct arise. Title IX, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Department of Education’s April 4, 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, the Clery Act, the Campus SaVE Act and a long list of state and local laws provide standards of compliance that colleges must navigate when addressing allegations of sexual misconduct. These rules can be difficult to interpret or silent on precise issues presented. Failure to comply with these complex rules and regulations can have substantial consequences to colleges and universities, including governmental investigations, civil litigation and significant reputational harm.
Hunton & Williams LLP has a team of lawyers dedicated to advising colleges and universities on the institutional response to sexual misconduct. Our lawyers provide consulting, counseling and legal advice on all issues related to sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual and gender-based harassment. We help institutions develop comprehensive sexual misconduct policies, procedures, systems and training programs in compliance with the applicable statutes and regulations. Specifically, our team can help educational clients:
- devise and implement adjudicative processes that both encourage victim reporting and ensure the due process rights of all involved;
- evaluate victim support resources and ensure adequate awareness and access to victim services;
- promote effective coordination between universities and law enforcement agencies and community resource organizations;
- design and present training and information to university personnel regarding the complex nature of sexual misconduct, including common responses of assault victims, mandatory reporting obligations, referral sources and the adjudicative process;
- conduct independent investigations of specific allegations and recommend institutional responses, including preservation of relevant information, potential consequences for involved persons, process improvements, interaction with governmental entities and litigation defense;
- counsel university trustees and governing boards on institutional protocols and risk management; and
- manage crises and public and alumni relations.
Our team assists colleges and universities to navigate the complex regulatory and legal environment in which these institutions operate. We bring together a team of lawyers, former federal and state law enforcement officials and university personnel who have deep knowledge of education law as well as the skills and resources to conduct independent, confidential compliance reviews and investigations. Our team is led by a former United States Attorney who has extensive experience with these issues and served on a working group that advised the president of a leading public university about its response to allegations of sexual misconduct. The team also includes another former prosecutor who is experienced in criminal investigations involving sexual assault, government affairs professionals who have advised university clients, and a university professor of criminal justice who has navigated this difficult issue from within. Our approach is comprehensive and multifaceted. We will work with interested institutions to tailor an engagement to specific need.