40 Percent of Colleges Haven’t Investigated a Sexual Assault in the Last Five Years

With one in five women sexually assaulted during their college careers, it appears that many rapes aren’t being investigated by schools.

Missouri Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill questions a panel of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their legal counsels, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Chief of Staff of the Army General Raymond Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh III and Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp Jr., as they testify regarding sexual assaults in the military during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 4, 2013.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
July 9, 2014, 8:27 a.m.

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.

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