New rules could narrow sexual misconduct on campuses

| Jun 24, 2020 | Firm News |

Sexual assault on college campuses remains an issue that students, school officials and legislators struggle to tackle. Some colleges put in place orientation programs that teach students and employees safe behaviors and how to respect consent. Others leave this difficult subject up to students and employees to tackle on their own. This leaves room for legislators to create fixes. 

In 2018, CNN reported that the Department of Education proposed new sexual harassment rules. The proposal attempted to find a middle ground between believing accusers and reassuring the accused. In this way, accused people would not need to fear that allegations meant automatic guilt. 

The proposal 

One middle-ground approach involved redefining sexual assault. The definition changed from unwelcome sexual conduct to only considering this conduct if it was pervasive, severe and objectively offensive that it led to adverse consequences for the victim’s education. 

The proposal also made provisions for “presumptive innocence” and allowed both access to review evidence as the investigation took place. Written notice of the allegations also formed part of the proposal. 

The new ruling 

In May 2020, CNN reported that the Department of Education finalized the proposal. The cross-examining that now becomes mandatory in the new ruling represents one of the contentious points people disagree with. Many believe that this might discourage victims from coming forward. 

The rules seem to specifically apply to how employees interact with students, as opposed to how students interact with each other. They take effect in August of 2020 and replace the Obama-era ruling that created the original, broader definition. 

Many people remain uncertain about how the rules might work in practice. Only time can show how well they do or do not.