Don’t Kiss With COVID-19!

March 20, 2020

By now you may have seen the video of college students on Spring Break, cramming together on Florida’s beaches while drinking and partying under the mantra “If I get corona, I get corona.” Aside from this attitude having potentially disastrous consequences for personal and public health—with younger Americans making up an increasingly large percentage of all COVID-19 hospitalizations—it can also result in Title IX complaints or even violations of criminal law. If you believe you have COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms (such as fever, cough or body aches) or think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus, our message is simple: Don’t kiss with COVID!

As we explained in our last post, college students are not immune from the Title IX process, even when they are off campus and taking classes remotely. Also, although this pandemic may seem like new territory for Title IX, many colleges and universities expressly prohibit exposing sexual partners to communicable diseases under their Title IX policies. For example, it is a violation of one large public university’s policy for a student to take “non-consensual or abusive sexual advantage” of another and, in a non-exhaustive list, includes the knowing transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Although coronavirus may not be traditionally seen as an STI, it is not much of a stretch to reach that conclusion in the current environment.

Similarly, even if a college’s policy doesn’t explicitly reference disease transmission, intentionally, knowingly or even recklessly exposing your sexual partner to COVID-19 could easily violate other policy provisions. For example, many Title IX policies prohibit domestic or intimate partner violence, and these policies do not limit violence to only physical assault. Instead, intimate partner violence can extend to any conduct that interferes with personal liberty or reasonably causes psychological harm. Given that entire swathes of the country are on lockdown, recklessly exposing your partner to coronavirus could easily constitute domestic partner violence.

Finally, even under the vaguest rules, it is a violation of nearly every Title IX policy to break the law. It is illegal in many states to knowingly cause physical harm to another. This criminal prohibition is not limited to physical assault and can include knowing exposure to communicable disease. For example, under Ohio’s felonious assault statute, a person’s body can be legally considered a “deadly weapon” if they knowingly transmit or attempt to transmit a communicable disease, such as HIV or Hepatitis. Other criminal statutes could also be involved, including those that forbid negligently harming another. Although there may not be many (or any) coronavirus-specific prosecutions to date, it is not unreasonable for a prosecutor to make an example out of someone who ignores obvious flu-like symptoms in a pandemic.

College students must take care of themselves and their sexual partners. If you think you have COVID-19, or COVID-19 symptoms, follow CDC advice and stay home. Exposing others to this disease is not only a bad idea, it may result in a Title IX complaint or worse. For more information on how to avoid and, if need be, handle Title IX claims during this difficult time, please contact Student & Athlete Defense / Title IX attorneys Susan Stone (scs@kjk.com or 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (kws@kjk.com or 216.736.7217).


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