How do colleges handle sexual assault?

Allegations of sexual misconduct on college campuses is a serious issue and can lead to long-term problems for those accused of assault, rape or other sexual crimes.

The topic of sexual assault on college campuses has become a heated one over the years. Many a Virginia resident has sent a son or daughter off to college with concerns about these types of incidents. While much press is given to worries that a college student, typically a female, will be the victim of sexual assault, there are other issues to be concerned about. False allegations made against a supposed assault perpetrator can have serious and life-long consequences if not properly handled.

A look at college campus practices

The University of Virginia publishes information about what it considers to be sexual assault on campus. This can include acts that fall into one of two categories-either sexual intercourse or sexual contact. Sexual intercourse involves penetration while sexual contact does not require penetration but only touching. For both types of offenses, the act can be done with an object or a part of the body.

Perhaps the most critical element of how the campus defines an act as assault is whether or not there was affirmative consent. Affirmative consent requires that both parties willingly, consciously and actively agreed to participate in whatever action took place. This consent can be done via words or actions. Any allegation of physical violence, intimidation, coercion or threats can be used to deem that affirmative consent did not take place.

If taken to the criminal level, these acts can result in charges of sexual battery, object sexual penetration, forcible sodomy or rape. Convicted offenders may be required to register as a sex offender according to the Virginia State Police. Registration can be mandated for life.

New laws effective July 2015

College campuses' handling of sexual assault cases underwent some changes in the past year as new laws were enacted in the summer of 2015. The Washington Examiner notes that one provides a glimmer of hope for those accused of such actions insofar as it requires campus officials to inform and work with local law enforcement on these cases. However, this cooperation is only required if campus safety is determined to have been compromised. Whether questioned by campus security or law enforcement officials, it is important to have a lawyer present to protect your rights.

Another new law stipulates that students who are permanently dismissed or suspended after being found guilty of a sexual offense must have a "prominent notation" placed on their official transcripts. The same holds true for students who leave schools during an investigation for a sexual offense. These notations can be removed if the student is later proven innocent of the act.

What can help if accusations are made?

Given that agencies like the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance work hard to let people know that sexual assault is most commonly committed by persons known to the alleged victims, dates and friends can be easy targets for false accusations. Anyone accused of such an act should contact an attorney for help promptly.