** The following is the first in a series of articles that are designed to provide students with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or autism with tips regarding the sexual misconduct policies and procedures at our nation’s colleges. **
If you are presently a student at a college or university, it is likely that you have heard discussions about campus sexual misconduct. The purpose of the below article is to help students with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or autism avoid behaviors that may violate their school’s sexual misconduct policies.
Before discussing behaviors which may violate your school’s rules on sexual misconduct, it is important to be familiar with the terminology which surrounds campus sexual misconduct proceedings. Some of the terminology surrounding campus sexual misconduct can be confusing, because various terms actually mean the same thing. Below is a brief list of some of the commonly used terms campus administrators or personnel may use when discussing campus sexual misconduct.
Sexual Misconduct: At most colleges and universities this term encompasses a wide variety of behaviors. It can refer to speech (such as a sexually offensive comment or continuously referring to someone with the wrong pronoun or gender), to touching someone without his/her consent, to sharing a video or picture of another student, to exposing your body or parts of your body to someone without his/her consent, to touching yourself in a sexual manner in front of a person or people without their consent, and/or engaging in sexual intercourse without a person’s permission. Every school has its own definition of sexual misconduct and what behaviors are prohibited.
Sexual Misconduct Proceedings: These proceedings are the process through which a campus investigates and decides if sexual misconduct has in fact occurred. You may sometimes hear a campus sexual misconduct proceeding referred to as a Title IX proceeding or the office which handles these proceedings called a Title IX Office. This is because Title IX is the federal law which mandates that colleges and/or universities address acts of campus sexual misconduct.
Complainant: In campus sexual misconduct proceedings, the individuals involved in the case may be referred to in a variety of terms. Someone who files a report of sexual misconduct may be referred to as the victim, a survivor, and/or the complainant.
Respondent: An individual who is accused of sexual misconduct may be referred to in a sexual misconduct proceeding as the accused student, the alleged perpetrator, and/or the respondent.
Below are some tips that could prevent you from committing a violation of your school’s sexual misconduct policies.
Tips To Help Avoid Violating Your School’s Sexual Misconduct Policies
Familiarize yourself with your school’s sexual misconduct policy: It is important that you are fully aware of what behavior is considered sexual misconduct at your school. Not knowing the policies or saying that you did not know that the alleged behavior was forbidden will not be a defense if you are accused of a violation. Be mindful that hanging a potentially offensive poster, wearing clothing with sexually provocative language or a sexually provocative image, repeating a sexual joke, wrestling with another student, and posting certain images on social media are just a few actions that may be considered sexual misconduct at your school. Below are some examples of behaviors, that while they may sometimes be innocent in their intent, could possibly be considered a violation of your school’s sexual misconduct policies.
- Repeating a sexual/gender based joke too often or too loudly
- Hugging someone for too long or too hard
- Grabbing someone or pulling at someone to get their attention
- Staring at someone for too long (the person who you are looking at may feel like you are harassing him/her)
- Touching yourself in public to relieve an itch or adjust an uncomfortable piece of clothing (this may be perceived as you pleasuring yourself)
- Engaging in conversation with someone after he/she has already told you that they are not interested in speaking with you
- Sitting too close to someone or moving closer to someone after he/she has already moved away from you
- Walking around the common areas of your dorm or your dorm room not fully dressed
- Following someone as they walk on or off campus
- Hanging a calendar of provocatively dressed (or undressed) people on the wall of your dorm or apartment
Inform appropriate administrators and/or school personnel about your diagnosis: Regardless of whether or not you are registered with your school’s Office of Disability Services, you should consider sharing your diagnosis with trusted school personnel, such as your resident advisor. Certain behaviors which may be consistent with Asperger’s or autism, such as those listed above, may be interpreted as an act of sexual misconduct to someone unfamiliar with you or with this diagnosis. If a trusted administrator, professor, or resident advisor is familiar with you and your behaviors, this person may be able to speak on your behalf and help you avoid a formal investigation being commenced when appropriate.
Be Mindful of Your/Others’ Consumption of Alcohol: Drinking alcohol may cause you to lower your inhibitions and behave in ways that you normally would not behave and/or behave in ways that may be considered a violation of a school’s sexual misconduct policy. It will be much more difficult to monitor your behavior if you are intoxicated. It will also be more difficult to defend yourself in a sexual misconduct proceeding if your memory of the event is hazy due to the consumption of alcohol. For this reason, it is recommended that you be mindful of how much alcohol you consume and how much alcohol a person with whom you are being sexually intimate with has consumed. Depending on how much alcohol he/she has had to drink, a person may be considered incapable of consenting to sexual activities. In short, when planning on consuming alcohol, use smart judgments about your choices and always make sure that you have appropriately obtained valid consent prior to engaging in any sexual activities.
Be Aware that Your Behavior Off Campus Can Still Violate Your School’s Sexual Misconduct Policy: Many colleges and universities extend their sexual misconduct policies to behavior that occurs off-campus. Your school will have the authority to investigate you and punish you based upon the fact that you are enrolled there, not based upon who reports it or where you were when the alleged misconduct occurred. Engaging in activity off-campus does not mean that this behavior cannot be reported as sexual misconduct to your school. Some examples of this include, but are not limited to, the following:
- If you engage in behavior that potentially violates your school’s sexual misconduct policy at an off-campus party, someone at this party could report you to the school
- If you engage in behavior that potentially violates your school’s sexual misconduct policy in off-campus housing, someone at that residence could report you to the school
- If you engage in behavior that potentially violates your school’s sexual misconduct policy with another student during a school break or during summer vacation, this could be reported to the school
- If you engage in behavior that potentially violates your school’s sexual misconduct policy during a semester abroad, this could be reported to your school
In short, for as long as you are enrolled at your college/university, your behavior at any time or any place could be reported to your school as a potential sexual misconduct violation. Also, it is important to keep in mind that the person reporting the alleged misconduct does not need to be a student or employee at your school.
The above information is not meant to scare you. It is meant to educate you on the types of behavior which may violate your school’s sexual misconduct policy. It is our hope that you will use this information to inform yourself and adjust your behavior accordingly. If you have any further questions, please contact the staff at AANE (aane.org) or Students Advocating for Student (sa4s.org).
Lori B. Tucker, Esq. (https://www.ltuckerlaw.com) &
Jake Goldberg, President & Founder of Students Advocating for Students
** 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. **