Title IX Campus Misconduct Systems: Punish or Rehabilitate?07/27/2017
Ms. Lau was invited to speak before a group of Title IX administrators at the 2nd Annual Title IX ExecuSummit in Connecticut on July 25.
“The interpretation of Title IX law is confusing and difficult to interpret, leading colleges to define sexual assault differently on each campus and make assumptions about what tools are at their disposal in these processes. All colleges fear running afoul of Title IX guidance at the risk of losing federal government funding if found in violation of Title IX,” Ms. Lau said.
During her presentation at ExecuSummit, Ms. Lau explained the legal significance of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter issued by the Obama administration as compared to binding federal law, and pointed to restorative justice alternatives to the typical Title IX campus tribunal process in handling complaints of sexual misconduct.
Currently, students accused of sexual misconduct appear before a campus tribunal (or no tribunal at all in the case of single-investigator model processes), which students often refer to as a “kangaroo” court because they can be convicted with little or no evidence, no medical or police records, and no legal representation. It is a procedure that does not allow for sufficient due process, even though some sexual misconduct violations, like rape, are of a criminal nature.
Ms. Lau shared real life examples of students whose lives were turned upside down following campus tribunals. “The price of getting it wrong is monumental for students, both emotionally and financially, and for institutions who end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees or settlements,” adds Ms. Lau.
In reforming the Title IX process on campus, Ms. Lau believes it is important to ensure that the process is fair and that complainants are safe. “A process that focuses on educating students instead of merely punishing them can go a long way for all involved in the process. I am recommending that colleges consider sexual education and Title IX sensitivity training, alcohol abuse courses, trauma-informed and restorative conferencing,” concludes Ms. Lau.
Watch a video clip of Ms. Lau's presentation on restorative justice here.