The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) regulations at 34 C.F.R § 668.46(b)(11)(vii) indicate that “… when a student or employee reports to the institution that the student or employee has been a victim of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, whether the offense occurred on or off campus, the institution will provide the student or employee a written explanation of the student’s or employee’s rights and options…”

Among other things, the regulations provide that the following information should be included in this written explanation:

  • The importance of preserving evidence
  • The option to notify law enforcement and be assisted by the institution in doing so (or decline to notify such authorities)
  • Information about existing counseling, health, mental health, victim advocacy, legal assistance, visa and immigration assistance, student financial aid, and other services available for victims, both within the institution and in the community
  • Options for, available assistance in, and how to request changes to academic, living, transportation, and working situations or protective measures.
  • An explanation of the procedures for institutional disciplinary action in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, including, but not limited to:
    • The standard of evidence that will be used
    • Possible sanctions and protective measures
    • That the procedures will be implemented by college or university officials who have received training
    • The parties’ right to an advisor of their choice
    • That the parties will be simultaneously notified in writing of the outcome and any appeals

But what about respondents? While the regulations do not technically require a written explanation of rights and options to respondents in these situations, general notions of fairness and equal treatment suggest that one should be provided. Additionally, as a practical matter, this type of information can help alleviate the stress and anxiety that respondents will likely feel upon being notified that a complaint has been filed again them.

What should this document look like? While it may not make sense to provide respondents with information identical to that which is provided to complainants (e.g., how to file a criminal complaint; contact information for a local sexual assault or domestic violence agency), a respondent would surely benefit from an assurance that having a complaint filed against them does not mean the institution has reached any conclusions on the matter at that point, the importance of preserving evidence, a summary of the applicable procedures, the right to an advisor of his/her choice, on-campus and off-campus counseling resources, legal aid resources in the area, etc.

What this means for you

If your college or university has not already, it should develop a “rights and options” document that can be provided to complainants at the time they make a complaint under your sexual misconduct policy. This is a legal requirement. Also, consider developing a similar document for respondents so they can gain an understanding of what will occur under your institution’s policy and procedures and can access resources that may be beneficial during this difficult time.