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Maine’s schools have a duty not only to educate our youth, but to provide a safe environment for them to study and learn in.
All children are entitled to certain protections afforded by law – including protection from sexual discrimination, exploitation, and violence.
Unfortunately, across the country, more instances of child sexual assault have come to the fore in recent years and Maine schools have not escaped this unwanted publicity.
If you or your child have experienced a sexual assault while at school, there are complaint procedures and legal steps that you can take to seek justice.
Title IX is one of the most significant laws regarding sexual discrimination and violence in schools. This federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities.
It applies to all public and private elementary schools, high schools, school districts, colleges, and universities that receive any federal funding – which is the vast majority.
Though you might not think of sexual assault or rape as a type of discrimination, Title IX laws classify any sexual violence as such, along with sexual harassment.
So, how can these laws protect you if you have been a victim of sexual assault in a Maine school?
Anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in the form of sexual assault, sexual violence, or unwanted sexual attention in almost any Maine educational establishment can file a complaint under Title IX laws.
Sexual assault need not be physical. It can involve verbal harassment, which creates a threatening or hostile environment for a student, preventing participation in education or benefit from it.
It can be perpetrated by other students, teachers, visitors, or almost anyone on school property.
Under Title IX, students are protected from sexual harassment both in school and while engaged in school-related activities, such as during:
You can file a complaint after just one instance of sexual harassment or assault. Contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA) or call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support line at 1-800-871-7741.
Alternatively, speak to us at The Maine Criminal Defense Group, and we can advise you of the next steps.
Title IX requires all schools that receive federal funding to take the issue of sexual harassment or discrimination seriously. They are required to implement a series of measures to prevent it and investigate instances of it.
First, each school must create a written policy against sexual discrimination and make it available for anyone who wants to access it.
The school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to complaints or observations of sexual assault in any form, taking immediate action to eliminate it, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.
A designated member of staff must be appointed as Title IX coordinator. This person is in charge of ensuring compliance with the policy – and their contact details must be distributed to students. Anyone with questions about Title IX or a complaint can contact this person.
Complaints of sexual assault, sexual discrimination or harassment are overseen by the coordinator and the “grievance procedures” for lodging complaints should be communicated clearly to all students.
Every complainant has the right to present his or her case with witnesses and other evidence and receive a reliable and impartial investigation of the complaint. For some sexual discrimination cases, mediation may be used to resolve grievances but in the case of sexual assault, this may not always be appropriate.
Every complainant has the right to be notified of the timeframe within which:
Federal privacy laws may limit the disclosure of certain information in disciplinary proceedings, but schools must inform the complainant of the sanctions imposed when it directly relates to the harassed student. For instance, if part of the sanction is for the perpetrator to stay away from the victim, the student must be made aware of that.
Under Title IX, the complainant must be treated confidentially and fairly at all times, and the investigation must be conducted in a timely way.
A complaint under Title IX is decided using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. This means that it does not need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that a sexual offense took place; only that it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred.
If you have filed a complaint with your school and have not received an adequate investigation or follow-up, you may need to escalate it and seek legal advice.
The school is duty-bound to investigate any incident of sexual harassment that it is made aware of or should reasonably have known about.
Even if no complaint is filed or a student does not request that the school take any action, it must investigate and take prompt action on any incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence it knows about or should reasonably have been aware of.
It should also be noted that a school’s Title IX obligations apply regardless of whether there is a criminal investigation into the matter.
If you need to make a complaint about sexual assault or any other case of sexual discrimination or violence in a Maine school, make it in writing.
This applies even if you have already made a verbal complaint with a school official (Title IX coordination or principal).
Once you have written your letter, make a copy of it before sending it. As you have seen, the school then has an obligation to investigate the complaint.
If you are not happy with the investigation process or the outcome, you may need to file a Title IX complaint against your school. Contact us at The Maine Criminal Defense Group for an initial consultation.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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