NEW YORK, NY, August 2, 2016 — Heading off to college is a rite of passage in which an adolescent leaves his or her family home and experiences real independence, often for the first time. Accompanying this newfound independence are unexpected pitfalls that young college students should prepare themselves for. Sexual encounters on college campus can be confusing, and come with their own set of rules and consequences. According to Kimberly Lau, Partner and Title IX Attorney at Warshaw Burstein, “It is important to understand how ‘sexual misconduct’ is defined and adjudicated by colleges today under Title IX federal law, which can include a wide range of conduct ranging from sending too many unwanted Instagram follow requests to someone you admire, non-consensual kissing, to a violent rape. Based on my experience in handling nearly 100 Title IX cases of sexual misconduct across the nation’s colleges and universities, the following advice would be wise for students to heed.”
For All Students:
Resist the urge to throw your student handbook into the back of your closet. Read the student handbook as soon as possible. Be aware of what constitutes a “violation” under the handbook. Have a clear understanding of “consent” under the school’s policies. Ask the Title IX Coordinator of your school for examples of what “consent” means under the policies.
Life-long consequences will occur if a student is found responsible of sexual misconduct. Forget transferring to another education institution of equal caliber or gaining acceptance to your dream graduate school. Even employment opportunities may be stymied or rescinded.
Alcohol and drugs often lead to making decisions you will regret or becoming incapacitated, leaving either or both parties with little to no recollection of what happened to him or her. Consider the close correlation of binge drinking and drugs with non-consensual sexual activity (by you or your partner), and re-evaluate your choices. “It won’t happen to me” is a myth. Everyone thinks they won’t get in trouble until they do. Being knowledgeable of the school’s policies and being proactive in your actions will help you avoid a costly end to your higher education.
Hook-ups are hazardous. If you just met someone, don’t assume you know what his or her “normal” is. This makes it difficult to know whether someone is too drunk to say “yes.”
Men and women perceive consent differently. Men rely on non-verbal cues for consent, while women wait to be asked for verbal consent. Have a clear understanding of “consent” under the school’s policies prior to engaging in sexual activity.
For Male Students:
Do not assume your partner is “sober enough” when you participate in any sexual activity with her. If she has been drinking any amount at all, in your presence or otherwise, understand that drinking raises the bar of what you need to prove in terms of “consent.”
If you do engage in sexual activity with your partner after he/she has been drinking, make sure that you ask him/her if he/she wants to continue before you do anything further at each stage of sexual activity from kissing, to disrobing, to touching, to actual intercourse. Wait to receive a clear indication that he/she has given you consent. A verbal “yes” is safer than a non-verbal cue, which can be more open to interpretation against you.
Although student handbooks may define “consent” to include actions and words, you would be wise not to rely on body language and non-verbal cues as clear indications of consent.
Know your rights according to the school’s policies, particularly if you are ever charged with a violation of the policies. Don’t assume that your rights will automatically be acknowledged or that the policies will be followed. You will need to stay actively involved in the process and point out your rights and the policy provisions that should be followed.
For Female Students:
If you are the victim of sexual assault, report this to the school and the police contemporaneously, especially if you have been drinking. That way, a forensic examination of your blood alcohol calculation and rape kit can be performed right away while evidence is still fresh.
Sexual assault can be perpetrated by women too; if your partner is too intoxicated to say “yes,” understand that drinking will inevitably raise the bar of what you need to prove in terms of “consent.”
Before filing a complaint of sexual assault with your school, understand how the process works. Your choice to continue the process or direct what sanction will be assessed will not control. The school, not you, controls the process and may carry it out with or without you.
If you are thinking of drinking while partying, party with a “designated friend.” This person can step in when you may be too intoxicated to make reasonable choices.
“Being prepared for college will help facilitate a smooth transition from living at home to living on your own,” added Ms. Lau. “Be aware of your rights and know what is expected of you in terms of your behavior toward others. Drugs and alcohol play a significant role in sexual assault. This is an issue which is deserving of more attention and dialogue to combat the sexual misconduct culture impacting college campuses today.”
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