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Defining Title IX Sexual Misconduct

Title IX By Binnall Law Group - 2021/03/19 at 01:11pm

Work with an Experienced Title IX Attorney

Title IX sexual misconduct claims can be confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the processes and definitions underlying these disputes.  If you’ve been accused of sexual misconduct under Title IX — whether you’re a student or faculty member — then you may not be sure whether the claimant has a legitimate argument.  To better evaluate the strength of your defense, it’s important to understand how sexual misconduct is defined as per current Title IX regulatory policy.

Title IX disputes can be quite challenging, and they involve procedures and rules that are particular to such disputes.  As such, we encourage the accused to consult with a qualified Title IX attorney here at Binnall Law Group for a full evaluation of the case and for complete legal assistance.  With proper strategic guidance, you may be able to avoid an unfavorable result (and minimize the potential consequences).

If you’d like to learn more about sexual misconduct under Title IX before getting in touch with an attorney, let’s take a closer look.

Three Types of Misconduct

The policies surrounding Title IX disputes were changed in 2020, and now limit the definition of sexual harassment, making it more restrictive — this makes it easier for the accused to argue a defense.

Per these changed policies, there are now three types of misconduct that qualify as “sexual harassment” under Title IX: 1) quid pro quo acts; 2) severe and pervasive conduct that is unwelcome; and 3) VAWA crimes.

We’ll consider them in turn.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo behavior involves an exchange of sexual favors for something of value — for example, a teacher’s assistant might offer to improve their grading of a student’s papers in exchange for sex.  This behavior qualifies as sexual harassment under Title IX and is prohibited.

Quid pro quo behavior can be somewhat difficult to prove, however, as the exchange often involves discretionary decisions (i.e., grading).  Generally speaking, if the accusing student has written proof of the quid pro quo exchange through emails/text, that will serve as valuable evidence in the dispute.

Unwelcomed Conduct

Title IX also defines as sexual harassment conduct that is unwelcome and is severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.  The basis for this evaluation is the “reasonable person” standard.  In other words, if a hyper-sensitive individual finds a particular statement offensive, but the average person in their circumstances would not, then it will not necessarily be sufficient to qualify as Title IX misconduct.

It’s worth noting that Title IX sexual harassment requires that the sexual harassment was both severe and pervasive.  Both are necessary to show sexual harassment.

How does this work in favor of the accused?

Suppose that you make an objectively offensive statement — perhaps you make a flirtatious comment to another student, making “a pass” at them in a sexualized manner.  Even if your statement would be considered severely inappropriate and objectively offensive, if you did not make any additional statements towards them aside from that one time, it could not be considered “pervasive.”  As such, it would not be enough to define it as Title IX sexual harassment.

Under the above circumstances, you would be able to avoid punishment in a Title IX dispute.

VAWA Crimes

Certain crimes — such as sexual assault and stalking — come under the purview of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and qualify as sexual harassment under Title IX.  These definitions are already established by their applicable statutes.

How does this work?

Consider stalking, for example.  Under VAWA, a person is stalking if they engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety, or for the safety of others, or to suffer substantial emotional distress.

Again, it’s worth pointing out the “reasonable person” standard in this definition.  If the victim is afraid of your regular presence but a reasonable person would not find that your conduct causes them to fear for their safety (or cause substantial emotional distress), then the conduct would not qualify as stalking under VAWA.  As such, it would not qualify as sexual harassment under Title IX.

VAWA crime definitions provide substantial protections for the accused where the facts do not clearly point to misconduct.  Those who have been accused of a crime should take heart that they have several avenues to challenge the attempt to paint their conduct as sexual harassment under Title IX.

Contact a Title IX Attorney for Assistance

Here at Binnall Law Group, our attorneys boast decades of experience representing clients in a wide range of high-stakes disputes, including those that center around Title IX sexual misconduct claims.  We regularly advocate on behalf of the accused (students and others) in Title IX disputes.

Title IX disputes can be overwhelming for the accused — after all, they involve many complicated procedures and regulations.  For example, a university may limit the use of a legal representative during the Title IX process.  They may also impose limitations on cross-examining the claimant.  These limitations can make it more difficult to defend against a Title IX sexual misconduct claim.

Given these complications, it is critical that you work with an experienced Title IX attorney who can provide comprehensive guidance throughout the process.

At Binnall Law Group, we understand the unique social, academic, psychological, and legal burdens that accompany Title IX allegations.  We work closely with our accused clients to help them make sense of the case and navigate it effectively.  It is our intention to secure a favorable result no matter the circumstances.

Ready to speak to an experienced Title IX attorney at our firm?  Call us at 703-888-1943 or complete an online intake form to schedule a consultation.