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College Sexual Assault: Key Laws

College campuses should be safe places for students. Yet, incidents of sexual assault remain a critical issue in institutions of higher education. The federal government has put rules in place to fight sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

Educational institutions that get federal funding must follow these rules or risk losing money. Advocacy groups also play a role, pushing for better campus safety and rights for survivors of sexual assault.

Sexual assault on campus is a widespread and serious problem. It is any sexual act without consent. There are various laws aimed at preventing and punishing it. This article will discuss the key legal issues surrounding college sexual assault.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972

Title IX is a powerful piece of related federal civil rights law. It states that no person can face discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities that get federal funding. This rule doesn't only apply to state universities. It applies to all educational institutions getting federal financial assistance. Many people associate Title IX with sports, but it doesn't just apply to athletics.

Under this law, students have the right to an education free from sex discrimination. This includes sexual misconduct and harassment. Schools must take clear action when they know about such issues. They can't ignore them. If a college or school doesn't address complaints about these issues, it can break this law. Every school should have a Title IX coordinator. This staff member handles complaints and ensures schools follow the law.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), headquartered in Washington, D.C., ensures schools follow Title IX rules. If a school breaks the rules, the OCR can remove its federal funding. In 2011, the OCR published the "Dear Colleague" letter. This letter went out in HTML format to educational institutions nationwide. The letter addressed Title IX and sexual violence.

This letter emphasized the urgent need to address sexual assault on college campuses. It guided how to address issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence. It reminded schools of their duty to take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Trump administration formally rescinded the letter in 2017.

Over the years, different administrations have changed how Title IX works. The Biden administration has expressed intentions to review and revise Title IX regulations. Yet, the core principle of Title IX remains the same. The goal is that all students, regardless of their gender or gender identity, should learn in a safe environment.

The Clery Act

The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges to report crimes. Schools must report sexual assault on their campuses. This law also requires schools to have school safety policies in place. If a college gets federal funding, it must be honest about campus safety. This act honors Jeanne Clery, a student who was tragically killed in her dorm room. Her death sparked the need for clear reporting on dangerous incidents. By knowing the number of crimes, students can make safer, more informed choices.

Under this act, any crime on school grounds and within school-owned property is "on campus." Other properties are on campus. This includes remote classrooms and buildings owned by campus groups. It also includes fraternity and sorority houses. Under the Clery Act, schools must warn students promptly when there are risks to public safety on campus.

Under the Clery Act, colleges must report certain crimes. They must report sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, and robberies. They also have to report aggravated assault, arson, car theft, burglary, and hate crimes. Students can find information about these crimes on their school's Annual Security Report (ASR). This report is on your school's website. If the most recent ASR isn't available by Oct. 1, this can mean schools failed to follow the Clery Act.

Campus SaVE Act

The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act is an amendment to the Clery Act. This act increases transparency on campus when it comes to sexual violence incidents. This became law during the Obama administration. It focuses on sexual misconduct in higher education. This law demands that state universities teach students and staff about certain topics. These topics include sexual assault, harassment, and other dangers. Advocacy groups helped push for this law. It also asks schools to have clear procedures for handling complaints. Every school must have a Title IX coordinator to address these issues.

The Campus SaVE Act also sets standards for disciplinary proceedings. It guarantees certain rights for the victims of campus sexual assault more rights. Finally, the act requires that colleges and universities provide education programs. These programs should address campus sexual assault prevention. The programs should define sexual violence acts. It should also educate students on bystander intervention and risk reduction programs. The programs should also inform students on the school's reporting system.

The Campus SaVE Act applies to a greater range of crimes. It also applies to incidents of domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence. The primary purpose of the act is to improve transparency. It also informs students of the complaint process so that victims know their rights and that the law supports them.

Victims' Bill of Rights

Survivors of sexual assault have rights. The Victims' Bill of Rights ensures that they get respectful treatment. They can request a no-contact order against their attacker, called the respondent. They also have the right to know the outcome of any disciplinary action. Schools must use the "preponderance of the evidence" standard to decide if there's a case. This means they decide based on what's more likely true than not.

In 1992, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights became law as an added part of the Clery Act. This law requires all public and private universities and colleges that take part in federal student aid programs to provide victims of sexual assault with certain basic rights. The law guarantees rights to survivors, accusers, and the accused.

The accused and the accuser have the same opportunity to have others present (such as a support person or witness) at any disciplinary proceeding. Both must know of the outcome of any disciplinary proceeding. College students have the right to receive notice of:

  • Counseling services available to them
  • Their option to notify law enforcement
  • Their option to change academic and living situations

Schools or school districts that violate this law can lose their eligibility to take part in federal student aid programs or pay fines up to $35,000. If you believe a school has failed to follow this law, you can file a complaint under Title IX with the U.S. Department of Education.

New Regulations and Changes

Different administrations have brought changes. Sexual assault cases within the realm of higher education have evolved in recent years. This is due to new regulations and changes to American laws. Let's explore some of these changes and how they've affected the adjudication process and the rights of all involved parties.

  1. Standard of evidence: During the Obama administration, colleges and universities followed the "preponderance of the evidence" standard. They used this standard when adjudicating sexual assault cases. This means it was more likely than not that the sexual misconduct happened. But, there were later regulations added during the Trump administration. Educational institutions can use the "clear and convincing" standard, a higher bar.
  2. Rights of the complainant and respondent: Newer regulations emphasize the rights of the complainant (the person making the allegation) and the respondent (the person accused). Both parties now have an equal opportunity to present witnesses and evidence. Both must have similar and timely access to information used in disciplinary meetings and hearings.
  3. Live hearings and cross-examinations: One of the more contentious changes in recent years is the need for post-secondary institutions to conduct live hearings. At these hearings, the complainant and the respondent can cross-examine the other party. This change aimed to ensure a more transparent and fair process.
  4. Definition of sexual harassment: The definition of sexual harassment has narrowed in recent regulations. The United States Code (USC) defines sexual harassment. It is unwelcome, severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive conduct that effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity.
  5. Scope of jurisdiction: Earlier guidance applied Title IX protections regardless of where the misconduct happened. Newer regulations mandate schools address incidents within their "education program or activity." This includes events or circumstances over which the school had much control.

At the federal and state levels, these changes emphasize a constantly changing legal landscape. As the national conversation continues, expect further adjustments to related laws.

Getting Help with Sexual Assault Cases

If you're a survivor of a sexual assault on campus, some people and organizations can help. You can report the crime to the local police department. There are also organizations, such as RAINN, where you can find helpful resources for victims of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a serious crime. A lawyer can help you navigate pursuing justice for this crime. They can help you navigate federal laws and local laws. They can help you get protection. They can also help you with reporting requirements for your school. Lawyers can also represent you in court and advocate for your case. Talk to an experienced lawyer familiar with education law today.

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