Bill Cosby Mistrial Shows Complex Nature of Reporting, Investigating Sexual Assault

The Bill Cosby sexual assault case provides lessons to all of us on how difficult it is to get 12 people to agree on an incident that allegedly happened more than 10 years ago. The outcome of a mistrial, in many ways, is indicative of what takes place on college campuses. Often, the Title IX Investigator must produce a report finding that the matter is inconclusive. This does not mean that the survivor was dishonest or that the incident did not occur. It means that the evidence was insufficient to conclude that it was more likely than not that a violation occurred.

Institutions have an obligation to take reasonable steps towards ending sexual violence, eliminating hostile environments, preventing recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedying effects. As a Title IX Coordinator at an HBCU, I believe that HBCUs have a duty to become more engaged in promoting a culture of prevention and support as it relates to sexual misconduct.

First, students must know how to file a complaint of sexual misconduct. This information should be listed on the university’s website, perhaps, in the Student Conduct section. The complaint process must clearly explain the options that the survivor has when it comes to reporting. A survivor can choose an administrative process. This means that the institution will investigate and adjudicate the matter, pursuant to the institution’s Sexual Misconduct policy.

The survivor can also choose to have a case investigated for criminal charges. Many times the survivor will choose both options, concurrently.

While it is very difficult to do, the sooner a survivor of sexual assault can report an incident, the better. Timely reporting is crucial and a delay or lapse of time in reporting can make it very difficult to gather much-needed evidence to support the complaint. For example, a survivor should not shower or wash their clothing immediately after the assault. Showering and washing clothing has the great potential of erasing any DNA that could be found on the survivor or on their clothing.

Instead, immediately report the incident to a campus official, and/or staff person or local law enforcement, and seek medical attention. The survivor should also place the clothing in a plastic bag and provide it to law enforcement or the health center if they are trained to screen for sexual misconduct.

If the survivor believes that they were drugged or otherwise incapacitated, they should immediately seek medical attention. A timely toxicology report can determine what drugs, if any, were found in the survivor’s system. Following these critical steps can help prove that misconduct did occur and that the accused student is more likely than not to have engaged in the misconduct.

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