Legal experts say schools have right to choose punishment in sex - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Legal experts say schools have right to choose punishment in sexual assault cases

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WAVERLY (KWWL) - In the wake of controversy and criticism following Central College's decision to give a student options for punishment after finding him responsible for sexual assault, legal experts confirm schools do have the right to choose punishment.

KWWL Legal Expert and attorney Karen Thalacker said colleges and universities have discretion to choose whatever punishment they see fit, regardless if the institution is public or private.

"It can range from a written reprimand to denial of privileges, to participate in extra curricular activities or be on campus, to suspension or expulsion." Thalacker said. "Each case and each punishment are based on their own facts and the severity of the incident."

In the Central College case, according to the Des Moines Register, the victim chose not to report the sexual assault to police. Therefore, it's up to the school to decide the perpetrator's punishment.

Dr. Deborah Loers is the Vice President of Student Life at Wartburg College in Waverly. She said under Title IX, which prohibits sexual harassment or sexual violence at schools, school officials are required to look into every case even if it hasn't been reported to law enforcement. According to Dr. Loers, the Dept. of Education and Dept. of Justice issue guidelines for schools to follow, ensuring "fair and equitable treatment for all parties" in the report of a sexual assault.

Despite federal guidelines, Thalacker said there's no uniformity in the execution of punishment; the same case at two different schools could result in different consequences. She said the decision to offer options for punishment in the Central College case is very unusual, but could be due to colleges and universities fearing legal action.

"There have also been reports of those who have been accused have sued universities, saying that the school denied their right to due process or acted negligently by mishandling their investigation and procedures."

Thalacker said a school's punishment can be appealed by the victim or perpetrator in a sexual assault case. The Dept. of Education would then decide whether the school's decision is appropriate.
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