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How UW investigates sexual assault allegations

New rules say colleges and coaches can’t suspend athletes accused of sexual misconduct while they go through Title IX investigations

By Catalina Gaitán, The Seattle Times
Published: April 22, 2024, 6:00am

SEATTLE — Questions swirled about the University of Washington’s Title IX investigation process after the school’s football player Tylin “Tybo” Rogers was allowed to continue playing while Seattle police investigated him for the alleged rape of a woman last fall.

How much did university officials know about the allegations? What steps — if any — did they take to investigate the sophomore running back’s conduct?

UW officials have declined to answer questions about Rogers, citing federal privacy laws that protect education records.

Rogers pleaded not guilty to charges Thursday.

But the university’s Title IX coordinator, Valery Richardson, helped answer some commonly asked questions about how UW investigates violations of Title IX, a law that prohibits sex-based discrimination — including sexual assault — at schools and universities that receive federal funding.

How is Title IX enforced?

UW’s six-member Title IX office includes Richardson, two deputy coordinators, two case managers and an administrative specialist who help respond to Title IX issues, including by helping oversee investigations of formal complaints of misconduct, at UW’s three campuses in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell.

Every university in Washington state has its own process for responding to Title IX complaints, and most aim to complete their investigations and make a determination — including whether a person was responsible for misconduct and any sanctions — within about 90 days of a complaint filing.

What happens when someone makes a Title IX report at UW?

Step 1: Report is made: A person files a report with the university’s Title IX office. Anyone — including UW faculty, staff and students and people outside the UW community — can make a report, including on behalf of someone else. UW does investigate off-campus misconduct if it involves UW community members, but is not federally required to, Richardson said.

Step 2: Case manager assigned: A Title IX case manager contacts the person who experienced the alleged misconduct to offer them resources and explain supportive measures and interim protective measures the university offers and their formal and informal resolution options.

Supportive measures include:

  • Limiting contact between the two parties by issuing a mutual no-contact order, changing their class schedules or reassigning housing.

Interim protective measures include:

  • Placing a “conduct hold” on the accused student’s record, which can restrict that student from registering for classes or receiving a degree until the hold has been removed;
  • Immediately suspending the accused student from participating in any university functions or privileges, including clubs and sports teams, if there’s reasonable cause to believe that student’s conduct puts others in the UW community at risk. An emergency suspension requires the university to immediately initiate a full investigation into the allegations made against the suspended student. The person can file a formal complaint or go through an informal process.
  • Informal options: UW’s Title IX office is developing a separate “alternative resolution” process that would likely include a facilitator speaking separately with both parties to come up with a mutually agreed upon resolution to the problem. “We’re eager to proceed, but at this time I don’t want to anticipate when [the alternative resolution process] will be ready to go,” Richardson said.
  • Formal complaint: A person who submits a report can file a formal Title IX complaint, which is a request for a full investigation that could result in disciplinary action from UW. The person who engaged in the alleged misconduct must be a person who works for or attends UW.

A person who initially pursues informal resolutions can file a formal complaint at any time. They can also later request to dismiss the complaint, and the university will consider that request, Richardson said.

“Once they start to investigate and review evidence, UW could be in a position where they know they must investigate,” she said.

Step 3: Intake with civil rights investigator: The investigator discusses with the person who filed the report what they alleged happened and determine whether Title IX may have been violated. If there is evidence and the complainant wants to move forward, the formal Title IX complaint is filed and an investigation starts.

Step 4: Title IX investigation starts: The investigator first notifies the person accused of misconduct about the allegations and what resources are available to them, including UW-provided “confidential advocate.” The investigator interviews both parties and any possible witnesses and reviews evidence such as photos, screenshots and text messages. A person can also choose to submit their own confidential medical records, such as the results of a sexual assault forensic exam.

Full hearing: Some cases go to a full hearing, where both parties are given the opportunity to give opening and closing remarks, question witnesses and cross-examine each other by submitting written questions to a UW hearing officer. Either party may also have an adviser present — including a family member, a confidential advocate or an attorney — who can verbally ask questions to the other party on their behalf.

A UW hearing officer — not a UW civil rights investigator — presides over the hearing and questions both parties during the hearing. The hearing office may issue a subpoena while the civil rights investigator may not, Richardson said.

Step 5: Initial order: The civil rights investigator (or the hearing officer in a full hearing) issues an “initial order,” which states their findings and conclusions, including whether a person was responsible for violating Title IX, any sanction and a brief statement explaining the reasons for those outcomes.

Either party has 21 days to request an administrative review of the findings. They must cite specific reasons, such as to present evidence that wasn’t previously available or to contest a sanction they feel is overly lenient or severe. A panel of UW faculty members reviews the evidence and determines within 20 days whether there should be a different outcome.

If neither party has requested an administrative review or if the panel determines the findings are appropriate, the initial order becomes final.

UW aims to complete investigations within 60 days of a complaint being filed, but Title IX investigations, particularly those with full hearings, tend to take several months longer to complete, Richardson said.

Investigations can take longer when one of the parties requests a delay (including if they aren’t doing well physically or mentally), when an adviser or attorney isn’t immediately available or when an investigator or hearing officer has difficulty getting ahold of a witness, Richardson said.

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An investigation can proceed even when one of the parties does not agree to participate, she said.

How are disciplinary decisions made?

Factors for determining discipline include the severity and persistence of the prohibited conduct, the nature of the violence, how the accuser was impacted, whether the accused student has accepted responsibility and that student’s past disciplinary record at UW.

Possible sanctions include written reprimands, probation, restitution, loss of privileges, suspension and expulsion from UW.

  • Do police and UW work together to investigate Title IX complaints alleging sexual assault?

That depends on whether a person chooses to report the assault to both police and UW.

A person can file a complaint with UW’s Title IX office without contacting police, and vice versa. UW case managers will explain how to file a police report, but will not contact police on the person’s behalf, Richardson said.

Police and UW investigations operate independently of one another, but UW’s policy states the university will “make efforts to coordinate information” with police when their investigations are happening simultaneously, including being responsive to search warrants. The university can also temporarily pause its own investigation if it risks hindering a police investigation, Richardson said.

  • How would being the subject of a Title IX complaint affect someone’s extracurricular activities, like being part of a sports team?

UW officials may immediately suspend a student from participating in any university “functions, privileges or locations” — including playing sports — if there is reasonable cause to believe their conduct poses a threat to the health, safety or welfare of others in the UW community. A person does not need to be arrested or charged with a crime to face suspension, Richardson said.

The emergency suspension remains in effect until it’s lifted by a UW official or until an investigation is completed or dismissed. The vice president for student life is the only official authorized to impose an emergency suspension at UW’s Seattle campus.

Separate from the emergency suspension process, athletic officials can bar student athletes from team activities, according to UW’s student-athlete handbook.

Any request to lift the athletics-specific suspension must be approved by the athletic director, according to the handbook.

Newly proposed federal regulations specify that colleges and coaches can’t suspend athletes accused of sexual misconduct while they go through Title IX investigations. That rule will go into effect Aug. 1.

ESPN reported that in a call with reporters Thursday, a senior administration official said removing an athlete from a team during an investigation is an unfair burden.