Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is the federal law that requires universities to investigate accusations of sexual assault or harassment, and enforce policies against sexual assault on campus.
The process for these investigations and hearings differs from school to school. They generally involve interviewing both the accuser, referred to as the Complainant, and the accused, referred to as the Respondent. Usually, initial interviews and fact-finding will be followed by a live hearing, before a decision is made.
Anyone who has direct knowledge of the events or circumstances of the allegations is referred to as a witness. If you are a witness in a Title IX case, you may be asked to participate in an interview with the investigators and perhaps even testify at a hearing.
So what are your rights as a witness in a university Title IX case? At DC Student Defense, we make it our business to help students defend their rights as well as protect their academic futures. Read on for everything you need to know if you’re indirectly involved in a Title IX case.
Do I have to Participate in the Investigation Process?
If you are named or referred to in the initial Title IX complaint, or in anyone else’s statement, chances are that the investigators are going to reach out to you for more information.
At most universities, you will not be required to participate in the investigation if you choose not to. However, if you do have crucial information regarding the truth of the matter, it can be incredibly important to the investigation.
You have three options when you are contacted by a Title IX investigator:
- You can refuse to participate
- You can choose to participate fully
- You can choose to give an anonymous statement but protect your identity
This last option will not always be possible. If the Title IX Coordinator’s office is simply conducting an informal inquiry in response to a report of sexual harassment, they may be able to accept your statement anonymously.
However, if an official complaint is filed, then both parties are entitled to know the identity of any witness in the case.
What Will the Process Look Like?
Before you choose to participate in a Title IX investigation as a witness, you may be wondering what the process will look like.
Although every school has different policies and procedures, here is an outline of a typical Title IX process for a witness:
- An investigator will conduct an interview, asking you questions about what happened
- The investigator will then ask you to provide any documentation that might be relevant, such as texts, screenshots, emails, or photos
- Your statement will be shared with all parties (including the Complainant and Respondent), as well as the decision-makers in the investigation
- You may be contacted again for a follow-up interview or further clarification
- You may be asked to testify at a live hearing
If you are ever concerned about your rights or your privacy throughout this process, don’t hesitate to contact a student defense attorney. They will also be able to help you if you are concerned that your statement might implicate you in a conduct violation in any way.
Can I get In Trouble If I’m a Witness?
One of the main concerns that some witnesses have during Title IX proceedings is that they could get in trouble if they answer the investigator’s questions.
For example, if the incident in question took place at a party, you may be forced to reveal that you were consuming drugs or alcohol against campus policies. Alternatively, you might be worried that they could find that you were complicit in the alleged assault or harassment.
Some schools may offer you amnesty from disciplinary action in exchange for your cooperation as a witness. However, even schools that do offer this may reserve the right to refuse amnesty under certain circumstances.
If this is a concern that you have, you should contact a student defense attorney before you agree to anything, and certainly before you give an official statement. An attorney can help you comb through your university’s policies and make sure that you’re not exposing yourself to disciplinary action as a result of your cooperation.
What should I do to protect my rights as a witness in a Title IX case?
Providing a statement or testimony as a witness can be extremely important to the success of a Title IX investigation. It can also prevent the decision-makers from coming to an unjust decision.
However, there are certain things you can do to protect your rights as a student. Here are 4 steps to take as soon as you are contacted by a Title IX investigator:
- Reach out to a student defense attorney as soon as you are contacted
- Don’t talk about the case with anyone else at school, or post about it on social media
- Read through all the school’s materials including the code of conduct, Title IX policies, and anything else they provide you with
- Gather relevant evidence including any documentation that might be relevant to the case, as well as anything that can help defend you against any conduct violation accusations
Once you’ve taken these steps, you and your attorney can begin providing the investigators with the information they need.
Contact DC Student Defense
Our student defense team has years of experience protecting students’ rights in Title IX proceedings. If you’ve been named as a witness in a Title IX case, don’t hesitate to contact us as soon as possible to discuss your case.
These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.