Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Sexual Assault by Student Is Not Automatically a Title IX Issue

As the public continues to decry the six-month sentence for convicted rapist Brock Turner, I get the sense that many are wondering about possible Title IX implications for this case. From what I've read, there are none. The university has pointed out in a public statement that it conducted a prompt investigation that resulted in Turner's being banned from campus, "the harshest sanction that a university can impose on a student."  The university also noted that it provided counseling services to the victim, who was not a Stanford student, once it learned her identity.  

I don't take a position on whether students have appropriately criticized Stanford's statement as cold and unsympathetic, or whether the university should extend an apology to the victim and increase resources for sexual assault prevention.  All I suggest here is that, if what Stanford says is true, there is nothing in the public record to suggest that more is required of the university under Title IX. Universities are not vicariously liable for the misconduct of their students. In the case of sexual violence and sexual harassment, they required to engage in a prompt and equitable response when it learns that such misconduct has occurred, and that appears to be what Stanford has done in this case.
Sexual assault has the potential to constitute a crime, a civil rights violation, and sometimes both. Often a reminder of sexual assault's dual character is required in the situations where there is no criminal liability for sexual assault. When cases like that are up for discussion, I find myself pointing out that the absence of criminal penalties doesn't mean that Title IX is automatically off the table. But that reminder works in the reverse, as well: just because there is criminal liability doesn't automatically mean implications for Title IX.