DC Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Allegations On Campus

The following is taken from an interview with a DC student defense lawyer as they discuss common situations where sexual harassment or misconduct may be alleged. If you have been accused, call and schedule a consultation with an attorney today to discuss your case and begin building a defense.

Common Situations That May Lead To Sexual Harassment of Misconduct Allegations

Sexual harassment does not necessarily take place only between people of the opposite sex or between people in a relationship. Sexual harassment can take place in locker rooms amongst teammates, it can take place between two heterosexual students, or it can take place in a variety of other situations.

Sometimes we see sexual harassment allegations where there is no specific allegation of physical violence but rather an allegation of an ongoing course of conduct.

Sexual harassment can include repeated, unwelcome sexual advances or propositions to someone who has previously indicated they do not want a sexual relationship. Sexual harassment can also include repeated sexual gestures, remarks, jokes, or comments about a person’s sexuality that are severe to the point of creating a hostile educational environment. This type of sexual harassment does not require any physical contact.

Sexual Harassment or Misconduct In Dorms

In a dorm, people are living in very close quarters. Relationships often start up between people who live in the same dorm. However, university student codes of conduct prohibit some types of sexual comments that constitute sexual harassment.

For example, repeatedly commenting on a person’s appearance to the extent the person feels threatened or that the environment is hostile or abusive can constitute sexual harassment in a dorm living arrangement. With this type of sexual harassment, the gender and sexual orientation of the people involved are irrelevant. Sexual harassment can even occur between two heterosexual individuals where one may make repeated, hostile comments about the other’s appearance or sexual characteristics.

It can also happen in an athletic or locker room setting where comments of a repeated and hostile nature about another locker room occupant’s physical characteristics can constitute sexual harassment. This does not mean isolated incidents can be considered sexual harassment. It does not mean mild jokes that do not rise to the level of creating a hostile environment would be considered sexual harassment. The line between those can sometimes be very fine, which is why it is important to have a lawyer to help you determine if the allegations rise to the level of sexual harassment under a specific university student code of conduct.

What Administrative Bodies Are Involved in These Cases?

Typically when there is an accusation that a student has engaged in sexual harassment, the complaint will be handled by the university’s student judicial body. This is the part of the university that will investigate and prosecute allegations of violation of the university student code of conduct involving sexual harassment.

The other administrative body typically involved is the university’s in-house counsel.  In-house counsel ensures that the university is abiding by all relevant federal or local laws when it comes to investigating student misconduct and those making the complaint.

The individual or group making the complaint are not necessarily the people filing charges of violations of the university policy, they are simply making the complaint which is then handled by the university’s student judicial body.

Biggest Mistakes To Avoid

The most important thing a student should do if he or she receives a complaint that he or she has been involved in sexually harassing conduct is avoid communication with the person who filed the complaint. University policy guidelines specially state that a person who is the recipient of a complaint should not attempt to communicate with the accuser, should not attempt to discuss or negotiate with the accuser and should not attempt to sway the accuser as to how to proceed on the allegations.

The most important thing that a person can do in this situation is to first talk to a lawyer about the most appropriate initial steps and how to avoid making the situation worse.  

How Can a Student Lawyer Help?

When a student faces an allegation of sexual misconduct, the student should contact a lawyer immediately. The biggest mistake that students often make is believing that they can discuss the situation with the accuser and try to resolve it between them. Do not attempt to discuss it with the other student or students involved. Immediately contact a lawyer for advice on how to not exacerbate the situation, how to begin an investigation, and how to begin responding to the allegation to minimize the penalties and maximize your chances of avoiding more serious sanctions.