Nearly half of the nation's four-year colleges have not investigated a single incident of sexual assault on their campuses in the last five years, according to a survey of 236 schools conducted by Sen. Claire McCaskill and the Senate Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight.
Although the survey did not address, specifically, how many of those schools received reports of sexual assault, given that, on average, one-in-five women is sexually assaulted during her college career—not to mention the smaller number of men—it appears that a number of cases are going uninvestigated.
Colleges and universities are legally required to not only report each incident of sexual assault to the Education Department, but also to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crime.
The survey noted that 9 percent of institutions involved in the review reported more sexual assaults to the Education Department than they investigated. And among the largest private schools in the country (each with more than 15,000 students), more than 20 percent said that they had investigated fewer incidents of sexual assault than they had reported to the Education Department, with some schools reporting as many as seven times more assaults than they investigated.
Taken broadly, the McCaskill survey describes a culture of ignorance—whether willful or not—on college campuses across the country. More than 20 percent of schools do not provide sexual-assault training for their staffs and 31 percent do not provide that training for their students, either. Significantly, 30 percent of schools haven't even trained their law-enforcement agents in how to respond to a sexual assault.
Although schools are required to appoint a Title IX coordinator, who oversees the institution's response to sexual violence and gender discrimination, more than 10 percent of the colleges involved in the survey said they didn't have one.
Additionally, fully 51 percent of schools who responded to the survey said that they did not have a hotline for victims to report sexual assaults.
But even in cases in which assaults are being reported, there remain several issues in how schools are responding. Twenty-two percent of all schools involved in the survey said that in the case of a sexual assault involving a student athlete, the school's athletic department is given oversight over the case.
Additionally, 43 percent of the largest public schools in the country reported that they involve students in the adjudication process for those cases, as they would for, say, an incidence of plagiarism. Experts worry, according to McCaskill, that having students involved in reviewing sexual-assault claims presents a major privacy concern for victims and could discourage students from reporting assaults.
McCaskill, D-Mo., who has turned her focus to campus sexual assaults after passing legislation in March to confront rape within the military, conducted the survey beginning earlier this year. "Unfortunately, the disturbing bottom line of this unprecedented, nationwide survey is that many institutions continually violate the law and fail to follow best practices in how they handle sexual violence. These failures affect nearly every stage of institutions' response to such crimes, and these results should serve as a call to action to our colleges and universities to tackle this terrible crime," McCaskill said in a statement.
McCaskill and the Obama administration have recommended that schools conduct "climate surveys"—anonymous questionnaires in which students are asked about their attitudes on sexual assault, the occurrence of assaults on their campuses, how the school is dealing with those issues, and whether they are aware of resources available to them in the case of an assault, among other queries. McCaskill's survey found that just 16 percent of schools currently conduct such surveys.
The White House recommended to schools in April that they begin using climate surveys, but senior administration officials said at the time that they hope to make the surveys mandatory by 2016.
Both McCaskill and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., have pushed for legislation to require schools to conduct climate surveys and, more broadly, get a better handle on the epidemic of sexual assaults on campuses across the country. That legislation has not yet made it to the floor, but it's likely that McCaskill's survey will serve as fodder for future legislation.