Articles / 06.21.2018

Title IX Meets Rocky Balboa: What Charges Against College Students and Sylvester Stallone Have In Common

By Susan Stone and Kristina Supler

Title IX

A Title IX finding of non-consensual sexual contact on a college or university campus can lead to legal repercussions years later.

Imagine this scenario in college: Two students meet at a bar or party. After an evening of drinking and flirting, both students decide to “hook up.” The next morning, or maybe a year or two later, perhaps right before graduation, one student files a complaint with the Title IX office alleging a lack of consent or having been too drunk to consent to sexual activity.

Under Title IX of the Education Act Amendments of 1972, the college or university is obligated to investigate the complaint as long as the charged party is a student of the college or university. Therefore, a student can file a Title IX complaint during the other student’s senior year even if the sexual encounter took place years prior. By that time, the charged student is at a distinct disadvantage. Memories fade and critical evidence such as text messages and emails are typically long erased. It is even possible that witnesses may have graduated and are no longer able to be reached. In essence, the charged student will likely have a difficult time proving his or her innocence. At that point, it becomes the college or university’s decision as to whose story is more credible.

Even more frightening is that under most college or university policies, the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence, which is the lowest standard of proof. This standard is often described as “fifty percent plus a feather.” Basically, if a hearing panel or university official believes the case is proven by this low standard, a student can be suspended, expelled or – for some seniors – reach the academic finish line without a diploma or the ability to transfer to another school.

So what does this have to do with Rocky (a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone)? Stallone is currently under investigation by the Los Angeles sex crimes task force for a complaint of sexual assault involving events that allegedly took place in the 1990s. While the actor denies the allegations, he must nonetheless defend himself against 20-year-old claims.

Critics of the Stallone investigation argue that it is designed to appease the robust #MeToo movement. Interestingly, many states are now evaluating whether to do away with statutes of limitations for sexual offenses. For example, in September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation amending California law so that rape reports are subject to prosecution, no matter when the alleged events occurred. Advocates in other states are also pushing for the same type of legislation by either abolishing or extending statutes of limitations for sexual offenses to give victims more time to decide whether to come forward with a report.

The consequences for a college student facing Title IX charges on campus are frightening. Should a student be found responsible for engaging in non-consensual sexual contact with another student, expulsion or withholding of a diploma could be the least of his or her worries.  It is possible that years later, the very same student could be charged with a crime for conduct that occurred in college and that was adjudicated under a much lower burden of proof. Likewise, the student could also be served with a civil complaint seeking monetary damages for the same event. This student could have to present a defense to a triple threat – a Title IX case, criminal charges, and a civil action for money.

College and university proceedings can have lifelong implications. Should a student face allegations of sexual misconduct, the student should handle the case with extreme care, as the ramifications may very well extend beyond the ivory towers of higher education. The case should be handled by an attorney or advisor who understands the issues looming ahead.

To learn more about Title IX charges on campus, contact Susan Stone at scs@kjk.com or 216.736.7220 or Kristina Supler at kws@kjk.com or 216.736.7217.

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