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Stricter standards in higher ed towards sexual harassment

Last year, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced new sexual harassment guidelines to colleges and universities, calling for more aggressive regulation of sexual violence incidents on campuses. Now, with litigation and claims expected to increase, education leaders are feeling the pressure to make sure their institution’s comply with the stricter standards.

Among the chief concerns for colleges and universities is whether the new guidelines favor alleged sexual assault victims and discriminate against their accusers. The guidelines include a requirement that school’s must employ a grievance procedure which uses the “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof, meaning that it’s more likely than not that an incident occurred. In the past, most institutions applied a stricter policy of “clear and convincing” proof when investigating and deliberating sexual assault cases. Click here to read the six main steps that schools must follow whenever a sexual assault case is reported.

The new guidelines, which were written in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter, elaborate on Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin. Title IX was later amended in 1972 to incorporate gender-equality, which reformed and enhanced women’s sports. Since then, the definition of discrimination in Title IX has come to include sexual violence. All educational institutions that receive federal funding will be required to comply with the new guidelines included in the amendment.

Whereas most schools used to have more leeway in their response to student misconduct, the new Title IX interpretations mean colleges must respond if a sexual assault is reported whether or not law enforcement chooses to get involved. In addition, the guidelines include protocol and instructions outlined by the government for conducting investigations and judicial procedures.
But risk analysts say that the new guidelines have created fear among some people where the methods used to investigate and determine sexual misconduct have become over-inclusive and will lead to unfair prosecution of the accused. Others contend it is the best means to keep educational institutions a safer place for our students. Only time will tell.

What is certain is that more and more claims of sexual abuse and misconduct will surface. With an increase in claim activity it is likely that there will not only be an uptick in claims from the victims and their families against institutions, but also from the accused. These new guidelines mean that now, more than ever, entities must make sure that proper protocol is in place to defend their administrative actions and duties as respect both the victim and the alleged accuser. An array of loss prevention services to assist in implementing guidelines and procedures are available from agents, brokers, lawyers and insurance providers. In addition, as the trend increases it will be imperative to review existing insurance contracts to review for adequacy.

About the Author

 Ronni Rausch is a Vice President at WGA, and works with a variety of clients, from public entity/not for profit institutions to professional consulting and financial firms. Her goal is always to negotiate the broadest possible programs at the most competitive premiums available for her clients.

617.646.0322     RRausch@wgains.com     Connect with Ronni on LinkedIn


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