College sexual assaults: US campuses' failures seen as 'call to action'

Many US colleges are failing to follow some of the most basic practices for responding to and preventing sexual assaults, concludes a first-of-its kind national survey released by Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Despite stepped up attention in recent years to sexual assaults on college campuses, many colleges are failing to follow some of the most basic practices for responding to and preventing such attacks. That’s the conclusion of a first-of-its kind national survey released Wednesday by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri.

“If we’re going to turn the tide against sexual violence, survivors must be protected, empowered, and given the confidence that if they make the difficult choice to report a crime, they will be treated with respect and taken seriously,” Senator McCaskill, a former sex-crimes prosecutor, said in a statement. “These results should serve as a call to action to our colleges and universities to tackle this terrible crime.”

Among the findings of the survey of 440 campuses, representing more than 5 million students:

• Forty-one percent have not conducted a single sexual-offense investigation in the past five years. Among schools that reported more than zero sexual offenses to the Department of Education, however, only nine percent had conducted fewer investigations than the number of crimes reported.

• Many campuses fail to encourage the reporting of sexual assaults. Forty-nine percent do not provide a 24-hour reporting hotline and 66 percent do not provide an online reporting option.

• Twenty percent provide no sexual-assault awareness training for faculty and staff; 31 percent provide no training for students.

• Many campuses do not follow recommended practices for adjudicating complaints of sexual assault. Just over one-quarter have students participating on disciplinary boards, which experts say can create privacy concerns and conflicts of interest. More than 20 percent give the athletic department oversight in cases involving athletes.

• Fifteen percent of campuses require a higher burden of proof against the accused than “preponderance of the evidence,” the standard that the US Department of Education says is necessary for Title IX civil-rights protections.

• Although they are required to designate a Title IX coordinator to oversee compliance, 11 percent of institutions have failed to do so.

The Department of Education has been working to enforce Title IX vigorously and recently published a list of schools under investigation for complaints about how they handle sexual assaults.

It also put forward rules for public comment recently to implement changes to the Clery Act, a law overseeing the reporting and prevention of crimes on college campuses.

Rape and sexual harassment on campuses have also been the subject of student activism, which has led to updates in policies at prestigious institutions such as Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale.

“Many colleges are doing good work in this field, and we need to recognize that. But there are also colleges that need help in responding to sexual assaults on their campuses,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa at a hearing last month held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which he chairs. “No student should have to endure the trauma of a sexual assault or face the risk of being sexually assaulted while in college.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.