College campuses, high schools and even elementary schools here in New Mexico and elsewhere often have two faces. On the one hand, they are learning institutions that reward students for good academic performance. On the other hand, they are places where victims of sexual abuse were beginning to feel as though they could freely come forward. However, a recent rule instituted by the U.S. Department of Education could change all that beginning Aug. 14.

On that date, a new rule goes into effect that strengthens the protections for those accused of sexual abuse. While individuals accused of such heinous behavior are entitled to due process, the new rules could prevent some victims from coming forward. The rule gives them the right to cross-examine their accusers in disciplinary actions associated with the school involved. The rule will most likely apply at the one place where most of the incidents tend to occur – college and university campuses.

Even though portions of the rule may not seem victim friendly, some provisions may improve their plight. The rule states that schools must investigate allegations made in some off-campus situations, including any off-campus activities that the school controls, such as field trips, and fraternity and sorority houses.

It may take some time before the true impact of the new rule is determined. In the meantime, victims of sexual abuse should not hide in the shadows, even after the rule goes into effect. They have the right to stand up for themselves and demand justice for what happened to them. As part of that process, New Mexico victims could find a compassionate and competent legal advocate to assist them and increase the chances of receiving what they need in order to move forward with their lives.