What is a No Contact Order and How Should You Handle it?

The U.S. Department of Education has said that a college is obligated to keep an accuser separate from the person she is accusing, based solely on the fact that she is bringing the charge. Schools can face scrutiny from the government and from the accuser herself if they aren’t seen as doing enough on this front.

In practice, what this means is that schools can impose draconian restrictions on the accused simply because he faces a charge, without any finding that he did anything wrong. Schools generally don’t want to tell the accuser that she needs to alter her life or schedule, so they tell the accused that he needs to stay away from her.

We are sympathetic to these concerns. For example, it would certainly be traumatic for a sexual assault complainant to live on the same hallway as her alleged assailant. And schools have to walk a delicate line between showing concern for the accuser while, at the same time, not treating the accused as if he’s guilty from the start. It is not an easy situation. Unfortunately, in our experience, schools all too often err on the side of guilt-assuming restrictions that can radically change the accused’s entire college experience.

Here are some of the restrictions schools often impose on the accused:

• no-contact orders,
• orders not to talk to the accuser’s friends or people she may know,
• orders to stay away from common areas at the school,
• orders not to use campus dining facilities,
• orders to avoid classes with the accuser,
• orders not to go on certain parts of campus or to stay away from campus entirely except for academic purposes,
• orders not to go on campus at all,
• orders to avoid certain sororities, and
• orders to avoid fraternities or sororities in general.

Many of these restrictions are overly broad and absurd. It is outrageous that someone who has not been found responsible for any wrongdoing can be prevented from going to campus, participating in college life, enjoying extracurricular activities, and attending classes—all because of an accusation that hasn’t even been investigated yet.

That said, because of the U.S. Department of Education’s mandate, it can be very hard to overturn these restrictions. In some cases, we’ve been able to get them modified to be less strict, though it’s nearly impossible to get them eliminated entirely. If you’re in every class with your accuser and you are prohibited from going to class at all, the school should make some accommodation to let you participate in class, even if it isn’t by actually going to class. Similarly, if your accuser lives in one dorm and you live in another, it isn’t a reasonable accommodation to kick you off campus—you could simply be barred from going to that dorm.

The biggest, fairest, and most important of these rules is the no-contact order. And it is simply good judgment to follow this—not only because it’s the rule the school has laid down, but also because it just makes sense.

You should not be seen in any way as retaliating against your accuser for bringing this charge. There are a lot of ways to do that, and you should avoid them all. Don’t talk to the accuser’s friends about what’s happening—or, better yet, at all. Don’t send anonymous e-mails. Don’t complain on Facebook. Don’t text your accuser to ask why they would do something like this.

You likely have a lot of things you want to say to her. That’s normal. But actually saying them could torpedo your case. Stay away from your accuser. Go out of your way to avoid places where they might be. Err on the side of not seeing them, even if it means you have to change your schedule or modify your life. If you normally cut through a quad by her dorm on your way to class instead of going a longer way, go the longer way. Do what you have to do to make sure you don’t run into them. It may affect your life for a few months, but not taking these steps can affect your life for years.

Schools take these restrictions extremely seriously. It can be a separate disciplinary violation to break an interim restriction or a no-contact order. These rules are often irrational and unfair. But you must play by them to avoid winding up in even more trouble. The last thing you need is to fight two separate sets of charges: one for the underlying accusation, and one for the no-contact order. Two-front wars often end poorly.