**The following is the third in a series of articles that are designed to provide students with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or autism with tips for navigating the sexual misconduct policies and procedures at colleges and universities nationwide.**
If you are accused of campus sexual misconduct, you will most likely be referred to as “the respondent” during the disciplinary process. There are two ways you can become a respondent in a campus sexual misconduct proceeding. Either the alleged victim (the complainant) of sexual misconduct files a complaint with the institution’s Title IX office, or someone else files a complaint with the Title IX office on the complainant’s behalf. Regardless of who files the complaint, once the Title IX office receives notice of a potential violation of school policy, administrators typically begin a preliminary investigation of the allegations.
The preliminary investigation usually involves someone from the Title IX office or a dean or administrator contacting you by phone or email asking to meet with you. This person may not tell you outright why they want to meet with you. If school officials refuse to tell you why they want to meet with you or say that they will tell you at the actual meeting, do not attend the meeting alone. Bring a trusted friend or adult with you. If you discover that you are being accused of sexual misconduct, do not respond to the allegations or answer any questions about the allegations. Instead, you should request to be given the allegations and potential violations of school policy in writing and indicate that you will give a response at a later time. If you are given the allegations in writing at this initial meeting, do not make any statements about the allegations at that time. Following the meeting, you should inform the school officials in writing that you have a disability, and you will need time to process these accusations and consult with your support team (parents, therapists, psychologists, and possibly lawyers), because social communication issues are a primary aspect of your disability (See Sample Template 1 at the end of this article).
Steps to Consider if You Recieve Notice that You have been Accused of Sexual Misconduct
Allegations of sexual misconduct are extremely serious, even if you believe you have done nothing wrong. An allegation can result in you being temporarily removed from your housing at school, temporarily removed from your classes, temporarily restricted from certain areas of the campus, or temporarily removed (suspended) from school in general. For these reasons, you should consider taking the following steps upon receiving notice that you have been accused of sexual misconduct.
- Familiarize yourself with the your school’s policies on sexual misconduct. These can usually be found on the school’s website using the search term Title IX Proceedings or Sexual Misconduct Policies. It is important to read these policies very carefully, because they will describe what school policies you allegedly violated, the punishment for policy violations, and how the school will conduct its investigation and carry out the disciplinary process. Most importantly, the sexual misconduct policy will describe what rights you have as the school moves through its disciplinary process. If you do not understand what you are reading, ask a trusted friend or adult to help explain it to you. At the end of this article is a description of terms you may encounter as you are reading your school’s policies.
- Notify your parents or another trusted adult for emotional support. If possible, seek a trusted adult who is not associated with the school. Adults who work for the school may be obligated to tell the Title IX office what you reveal to them. Defending yourself against allegations of sexual misconduct is extremely stressful and anxiety provoking, even if you believe you are totally innocent. You will need support during the disciplinary process. If you do not feel comfortable telling your family and do not have a trusted adult you can confide in, consider telling a trusted friend or reaching out to an organization such as AANE or Students Advocating for Students (sa4s.org). The people who work for these organizations understand what occurs during a college sexual misconduct proceeding, and they can help you get the proper support and guidance for free.
- Consider revealing your diagnosis to the Title IX coordinator and alerting your school’s Disability Office that you are involved in a Title IX/sexual misconduct proceeding.* It is important that the school officials involved in the sexual misconduct proceedings be made aware of your disability, because during these proceedings you will need to provide a response to the investigator and perhaps to the decision making panel regarding the allegations. You may have certain behaviors that are related to your disability (e.g., lack of eye contact, processing information slowly, misreading social cues, etc.) that could be misinterpreted as being evasive or some other sign of guilt. You may also need certain accommodations as you go through the disciplinary process (e.g., shorter time periods for interviews or meetings, the ability to confer with an advisor to help you process information, someone to help you understand social cues, etc.). You cannot assume that the school administrators have any knowledge or understanding of your disability. You may need to educate them about your disability and how it makes you behave, particularly if the allegations against you are a result of behaviors related to your disability. The best way to do this is to contact your school’s Office of Disability Services so they can help you get appropriate accommodations for these proceedings. Even if you are not already registered with the Office of Disability Services, you will most likely need to contact them in order to receive accommodations during the proceedings (see Sample Templates 2 and 3 at the end of this article). You also need to make sure that all the members of your support team understand your disability and how it affects your behavior, so your disability can be appropriately explained to the school administrators involved in the various parts of the proceedings.
*It is your obligation to notify your school’s Office of Disability Services about your involvement in a sexual misconduct proceeding. The Title IX Office and the Office of Disability Services often cannot communicate with each other about you without your permission.
- Consider hiring an attorney experienced in Title IX law or campus seuxal misconduct proceedings to represent you. Although school officials may tell you that sexual misconduct proceedings are not legal proceedings, if you are found responsible for sexual misconduct, there may be some very serious consequences. Sanctions for campus sexual misconduct can include being suspended or expelled from your school. Either of these sanctions will result in an interruption in your education and a permanent notation on your academic records or transcript, which can be detrimental to your future. If you or your family are able to afford an attorney, you should hire one to represent you during the proceedings. Ideally, you will want an attorney who specializes in Title IX/campus sexual misconduct proceedings or one who has a great deal of experience handling these types of cases. You will also want an attorney who has experience working with individuals who have Asperger’s or autism so that he/she can account for this diagnosis during the proceedings, if it is applicable, and make certain to obtain any accommodations you may need. If you or your family do not know how to obtain an attorney with the proper experience, consider reaching out to Students Advocating for Students (sa4s.org). They have a database of attorneys nationwide who are experienced in these areas.
- As soon as possible, document everything about the incident that you can recall. This documentation should include a written narrative of everything you remember about the alleged incident. Carefully consider if there are any witnesses who may be able to support your response to the allegations. If there are witnesses, you need to be cautious discussing the allegations with them because most schools have restrictions on what respondents can discuss with potential witnesses in a misconduct proceeding. Before speaking with any potential witnesses, review your school’s policies to determine what you are allowed to say to them about the allegations. If you are working with an advisor or attorney, seek his/her advice before approaching any potential witnesses. Do not share your documentation with the school without first showing it to your trusted support team.
- Gather any potential evidence which could help you defend yourself against the allegations that are being brought against you. Evidence could include names of witnesses who were present before, during, or after the alleged events; photos that may have been taken immediately before, during or after the alleged incident; text messages between you and the complainant or between you and witnesses discussing the alleged events; social media postings; video camera surveillance tapes; or copies of police reports or medical reports filed by the complainant detailing the alleged incident (these reports may be reveal inconsistencies in the complainant’s allegations). Make a list of all of the aforementioned evidence so that you can present it to your advisor or attorney, and if they they approve, you can also share it with the school officials investigating your complaint.
- Do not attend any meetings or speak with any school officials about the allegations against you without your attorney, a trusted adult or friend by your side. Most school policies allow for a respondent to attend any meetings or proceedings with an attorney, an advisor or support person. Take advantage of this provision and attend all meetings and proceedings with someone you trust. Ideally, have this person take notes detailing who is at the meeting and what is being said by all of the participants. It will be very difficult for you to focus on the questions being asked of you during the meetings and take notes at the same time, so having someone there to do it for you will be helpful. Also, if a question should arise later as to what was said at the meeting, this person and the notes he/she took may be able to help you.
- Document everything that occurs during the school proceedings so that you are prepared for a possible appeal. From the moment you receive notice that you are being accused of sexual misconduct, you should begin documenting what occurs during the school proceedings. Keep notes of who you speak to at the school about your case, what is said, what meetings you attend, who is at those meetings, and what is said at those meetings. Save any emails or written correspondence you receive from the school about your case. Also, keep track of what documents and witnesses you submit for your defense. All of this information will become very important if either you or the complainant decide to file an appeal of the school’s findings.
- If possible, also make an audio recording of all meetings and transcribe it for later use. Recording the meetings will allow you to create a record of what each of the participants at the meeting said, and, unlike note taking, this record could be helpful in definitively addressing any discrepancies that may later arise about what was said. Having a recording of what you said in earlier meetings will also help you to prepare for the later phases of the proceedings. However, before recording a meeting, you need to determine the recording laws of the state where your school is located. If you are in a “one party consent recording state,” you can record the meeting without the school’s knowledge or permission. If you are in a “two party consent recording state,” such as Massachusetts, you will need permission from the school official at the meeting in order to record it or the recording will not be able to be used. Recording without the school’s permission is a criminal offense in some states. To be certain that you are legally permitted to record these meetings, you should first consult with your attorney or advisor to make sure you understand the recording laws of the state where your school is located. If you are in a “two party consent recording state,” we recommend that prior to the meeting you send an email to the appropriate school official requesting permission to record (See Sample Template 4 at the end of this article).
- Be aware that criminal proceedings may arise from these allegations. Depending on the nature of the allegations, it is possible for there to also be a criminal investigation by the state police. These criminal proceedings may occur at the same time or after the school disciplinary proceedings have concluded. If there is a criminal proceeding at the same time as the school proceedings, you need to be extremely careful about what you say in the school proceedings. Seek advice from your advisor or attorney before making any statements, either written or verbal, to the school. Everything you say or submit during the school proceedings can be turned over to the police and used against you in the criminal proceedings. If a criminal case is filed against you, it is strongly recommended that you contact a criminal defense attorney to help you with that matter.
- Consider seeking emotional support from a professional therapist or doctor during these proceedings. Campus disciplinary proceedings can be extremely stressful. Even if your family and friends are supportive, you may need more help. Many students in this situation seek professional counseling. If you decide to seek professional counseling, in order to ensure your privacy, you may feel most comfortable finding someone outside of your school to work with you. If you need guidance on how to obtain professional counseling, contact AANE at aane.org.
Use the below templates to send a letter to your school’s Title IX Office, Office of Disability Services, or other school official.
Sample Template 1: Email to school official requesting written notice of allegations and giving notification of disability:
Dear (insert name of appropriate school official),
It is my understanding that a complaint of sexual misconduct has been filed against me. Would you please provide me with a written description of the allegations against me and what school policies I have allegedly violated. Additionally, please be aware that I have a medical diagnosis of ____________ (insert your diagnosis here). Due to my disability, I will need time to process the allegations against me and will require support and accommodations if this complaint proceeds to an investigation and hearing. Please let me know in writing what steps I need to take to receive the necessary support and accommodations.
Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.
Sample Template 2: Email to the Office of Disability Services if you are already registered with them:
Dear (insert name of head of Disability Services),
I am writing to inform you that I am involved in a Title IX proceeding and will require support and accommodations (if possible, you should list what supports and accommodations you anticipate needing). I am already registered with your office. Please let me know what steps I need to take to ensure that I receive the necessary supports and accommodations. Also, please allow this email to serve as permission for you and the staff in your office to communicate with the Title IX office about my disability and the supports and accommodations I will need in this process.
Thank you for your help in this matter.
Sample Template 3: Email to Office of Disability Services if you are not already registered with them:
Dear (insert name of head of Disability Services),
I have a diagnosis of ____________ (insert diagnosis). I am involved in a Title IX proceeding and will require support and accommodations (if possible, you should list supports and accommodations you anticipates needing). Please let me know what steps I need to take to register with your office so as to ensure that I receive the necessary supports and accommodations. Also, please allow this email to serve as permission for you and the staff in your office to communicate with the Title IX office about my disability and the supports and accommodations I will need in this process.
Thank you for your help in this matter.
Sample Template 4: Email to school official requesting permission to record a meeting in a “two party consent recording state”:
Dear (insert name of school official you are meeting / will be meeting with),
A meeting has been scheduled in this disciplinary matter for _________ (insert date). If possible, I would like to record this meeting. Would you please let me know by __________ (insert mm/dd/year; XX:XX AM/PM) if this will be allowed. Please respond to me via email.
Terms which May Arise as you Review your School’s Policies
Below are some phrases or terms which you may encounter during the campus sexual misconduct disciplinary process:
- Complainant/victim/survivor/accuser: Schools may use one of these words or several of them to describe the person who is alleging that he/she is the victim of sexual misconduct.
- Respondent/accused/alleged perpetrator: Schools may use any of these phrases to describe the person who is being accused of sexual misconduct.
- Administrative Complaint: This is a complaint which is filed or initiated by an administrator at the school, regardless of whether the alleged victim wants to participate. Many administrators reserve the right to file this type of a complaint. The proceedings and the possible outcomes remain the same regardless of whether the complaint is initiated by an administrator or the alleged victim.
- Notice of Complaint: This is the name of the document which most schools give the accused student when he/she has an allegation of sexual misconduct made against him/her. This document usually contains the name of the accuser, the date of the alleged incident, and what school policies the accused student is alleged to have violated. Other than this information, schools usually give very little information in the notice of complaint about the specifics of the allegations.
- Interim Measures: Sometimes, after a complaint is filed and before a decision has been reached, a school may impose interim measures on the accused student. These are directives from the school to the accused student which may include the following: the accused student being removed from all or some of his/her classes, certain areas of the campus being off limits to the accused student, an order directing the accused student to have no contact with the complainant, and/or suspension from the campus until the matter has been resolved. There are a variety of reasons schools impose interim measures. Sometimes, it is possible to convince the school to remove the measures; however, in many cases, they remain in place until the disciplinary process is concluded.
- Investigator(s): Most schools’ policies provide for one or more people to investigate the allegations of the complaint. How the allegations will be investigated and who will be investigating them will be described in your school’s sexual misconduct policy. The investigation usually consists of interviews of the parties and their witnesses and a review of any evidence that either party submits. The investigator then writes a report to be submitted to the decision making panel (see below). Some schools will allow you to have a copy of the report. Other schools will only allow you to review the report in the confines of the Title IX office, and still other schools do not allow you to review the report at all. They will meet with you and summarize what is in the report. You need to review your school’s policies to determine how your school handles this aspect of the proceedings.
- Decision Making Panel: Usually, after the investigator has finished the investigation and written a report, the report is then sent to a decision making panel. This panel will make the decision as to whether or not you should be found responsible for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policies. Decision making panels vary depending on the school’s policies. For instance, some schools have a hearing where the parties and witnesses give statements, and other schools only allow written statements and proposed questions to be submitted to the panel. After the panel has made its decision, you should receive a notice in writing of what the decision is, what sanctions, if any, were given, and how to appeal the decision. Keep in mind that the complainant also has the right to appeal a decision.
- Finding of Responsibility: In Title IX proceedings, the school calls its determination of whether or not you violated school policy “a finding of responsibility.” If the decision making panel determines that there was a violation of school policy, you will be “found responsible.” If the decision making panel determines that there was no violation of school policy, you will be “found not responsible.”
- Appeals Process: Most schools have a procedure for appealing the decision of a finding of responsibility. This process will be explained in your school’s sexual misconduct policies. Usually, the appeals process limits the reasons a decision can be appealed. In order to determine if you have a reason or grounds to appeal, it is important that you and your advisor or attorney review your school’s sexual misconduct policy to determine what issues are allowed to be submitted for appeal.
- Sanctions: If you are found responsible for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy, you will most likely receive some type of punishment or sanction. A review of your school’s sexual misconduct policy will describe the possible sanctions for a violation. Sanctions can be anything from being placed on probation, being ordered to undergo counseling, being suspended, or being expelled from school immediately. If you are found responsible it is likely that your transcript or academic record will have a notation of this finding. This could have an impact if you transfer schools or apply to graduate school (for more on this topic, please read the fifth article in this series, “Life After A Title IX Proceeding”).
**Important Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Reading this article does not create an attorney-client relationship. This article is strictly written for educational purposes to generally educate students about campus sexual misconduct policies.**