Colleges Ignore U.S. Rules on Sexual Assault, Survey Shows

Colleges across the country are flouting federal rules for prevention, response and investigation of campus sexual assaults, according to a survey by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.

More than 40 percent of 440 colleges and universities surveyed by McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, haven’t investigated a sexual assault in the past five years, according to a report released today. More than one in five large U.S. private institutions surveyed failed to investigate all the sexual assaults they reported to the Education Department.

Title IX, the law that prohibits gender discrimination in schools, requires institutions to prevent, respond to and investigate sexual assaults to ensure equal access to education. The absence of reviews at such a high proportion of schools suggests that many still aren’t paying attention to their responsibilities under federal regulations, said Tracey Vitchers, Chairwoman of SAFER Campus, a New York-based advocacy group.

“To perpetrators of sexual violence, it shows that they’ll never have any disciplinary action taken against them,” Vitchers said in a phone interview. “And it’s harmful to sexual-assault survivors because it indicates that addressing what happened to them isn’t a priority for the school.”

Resources Needed

More than 10 percent of colleges in the survey lacked a designated Title IX coordinator, which is required by law, according to the 120-page report. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department need more resources to make sure regulations are followed and cases are prosecuted, McCaskill said on a conference call with reporters.

The agencies “are doing the cases and trials that rise to the top,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a whack-a-mole problem.”

Many schools treat athletes accused of sexual assault differently than other students, the survey showed. About 22 percent of schools shift responsibility for investigation of incidents involving athletes to the athletic department, the report said.

“This creates a separate class of students for investigations,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network advocacy group in Washington. “As much as I respect coaches and athletic directors, sexual-assault investigation is probably not one of their primary skills.”

Athletes’ Cases

The practice of letting athletic departments oversee investigations needs to end, McCaskill said on the call. She plans to discuss the issue with National Collegiate Athletic Association officials, she said.

“In many cases, athletic departments are the most powerful entities that exist on campus,” she said.

Students nationwide have been holding protests and complaining to the Education Department about the frequency of rape and sexual misconduct on campus. McCaskill sent out the surveys in April to learn how incidents are reported and schools handle them.

“Most colleges and universities want to do this right,” she said. “It’s a complicated area with lots of problems.”

More than 20 percent of schools surveyed give no training to faculty and staff on sexual-assault prevention and responses, and about 31 percent of the schools don’t give training to students, according to the survey.

Training Absent

Colleges and universities have been required to provide such training since 1993, said Daniel Carter, director of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation’s 32 National Campus Safety Initiative.

“It is concerning that as many as 31 percent of schools may not have been complying with the mandatory education requirement,” Carter said yesterday in a telephone interview.

The survey found poor coordination with campus police enforcement, with 30 percent of institutions failing to train officers in how to respond to reports of sexual assaults. More than 70 percent of colleges and universities surveyed lacked guidelines for local law enforcement and college officials to work together on responding to sexual violence.

McCaskill is leading a bipartisan group of senators to develop legislation aimed at increasing prosecutions of rape and sexual assault by local law enforcement. The colleges that responded remain anonymous because the purpose of the survey was to gather accurate information to help shape legislation, she said.

President Barack Obama’s administration has demanded that schools put more effort and resources into preventing and responding to sexual assaults. In 2011, the administration issued guidance saying that failure to do so would violate Title IX. In April, a White House task force called for colleges by 2016 to begin anonymously surveying students on rates of sexual assault.