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When most people hear about Title IX, they think of gender equality in school sports programs. However, this section of the federal civil rights law passed in 1972 also covers sexual harassment and assaults on college campuses. The head of the Rape Crisis Center in Savannah says that most reported rapes occur on or near college campuses.

Under the law, schools that receive federal funding can be held liable if a student, staff or faculty member is found guilty of these actions. Further, schools can expel or suspend students if they're found guilty by a Title IX panel made up of school representatives. That's separate from any criminal charges that may be filed against those accused.

Now Georgia state lawmakers are debating a bill that could take Title IX investigations out of the hands of campus committees, which currently handle them, and place them under the purview of law enforcement. Colleges couldn't take disciplinary action against a student or employee accused of a crime unless and until he or she was found guilty or confessed.

Public response to the proposed legislation (House Bill 51) has been mixed. The legislature has been hearing from victims' rights advocates, victims and those who say that their children were falsely accused.

A co-sponsor of the bill says that the goal is to "make sure everybody gets due process. If somebody has committed a crime, they need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Critics of the legislation say that as it's now written, victims will be more hesitant about coming forward to report assault, since their alleged attackers would be less likely to face disciplinary action.

Legislators say that with HB 51, they're trying to protect both victims and those accused of sexual crimes. The language in the bill is likely to change before it goes to the full house for a vote based on input received from all sides.

A sexual assault accusation can have a serious impact on a student's future. Even if not charged or convicted, an accused student could see his or her college career disrupted. Of course, criminal charges can carry penalties that can follow a young person for years. It's essential to have experienced legal guidance if you or a loved one is accused of sexual assault.

Source: WBRC, "Georgia House Bill 51 proposes change to Title IX investigations," Sean Evans, Feb. 06, 2017

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