Sexual assaults, such as rape, sexual abuse and even harassment, occur everywhere, even at colleges and universities. There have been major media reports of colleges engaging in questionable, unethical behavior when responding to reports of campus sexual assaults. Some colleges have been under fire for essentially sweeping such reports under the rug, and engaging in conduct such as:
- failing to contact local law enforcement,
- trying to convince the student to recant, and
- taking no administrative action whatsoever.
Recently, the federal government has begun to investigate how colleges and universities handle a student’s report of sexual assault. Several colleges in Pennsylvania are under scrutiny, at least two in the Philadelphia area.
Legal Rights in a College Sexual Assault Case
Victims of sexual assault or abuse have rights in both the criminal and civil legal justice systems. These two systems, however, operate differently in how the victim is treated. In criminal cases, the local prosecutor’s office brings the case against the perpetrator, i.e., person who committed the actual assault/abuse. The victim does not control the case; the prosecutor does. In fact, the victim will not be able to control many aspects of the case, such as the whether the case is even filed and the eventual outcome.
In civil cases, the victim controls the case. The victim has the final say in matters which pertain to:
- whether to file a lawsuit at all, and
- whether to settle the case or go to trial.
In addition, in civil cases, victims do not often have to testify in court, whereas in criminal cases, victims very often are forced to testify in court. Many sexual assault/abuse cases are settled before the victim (plaintiff) ever has to step foot in a courtroom. In addition, in civil cases, victims are able to sue not only the immediate perpetrator (person who committed the acts), but also any other person or entity which was negligent in contributing to the acts, injury or emotional distress. For instance, in a college sexual assault case, a college may be liable, in addition to the perpetrator, if there is evidence that the college was able to prevent the crimes from happening in the first place or was otherwise negligent in responding to reports of sexual assault/abuse.
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