Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill released a survey Wednesday that she describes as a “wake up call” on the issue of campus sexual assault.
Over the last several months, the Senate Subcommittee on on Financial and Contracting Oversight surveyed 236 of the nation’s college and universities regarding the methods they use to combat on-campus sexual assault. The results are not up to what McCaskill believes is necessary.
“We need institutions across the country to recognize sexual violence for what it is — a crime — and work to prevent it and effectively address it when it does occur,” McCaskill said in a statement that accompanied the survey’s release. “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.”
Many schools, McCaskill found, haven’t implemented methods that she believes could help fight sexual assault. Only about half of schools have sexual assault hotlines that allow students to report assaults anonymously, and 20 percent provide no training to faculty or staff on how to respond to sexual assault claims.
Only 16 percent of schools conduct so-called “climate surveys” to measure the campus’s attitudes regarding sexual assault, even though the federal government has recommended such surveys as a useful tool. In many cases, McCaskill claims, schools are falling so fart short in their practices that they actually are violating Title IX and other federal regulations concerning sexual assault.
Additionally, 40 percent of schools have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, and many had conducted significantly fewer investigations than they had reported incidents of sexual assault.
That rate is unacceptable, McCaskill claimed, citing a 2000 study by the Department of Justice that concludes less than five percent of campus sexual assault victims ever go to law enforcement. That puts a greater burden of action on schools.
When universities do investigate, McCaskill’s report says they are prone to “biased” investigatory approaches. Some schools allow the accused to challenge the impartiality of a campus panel investigating an assault while not offering the same opportunity to accusers.
Fifteen percent of schools, she said, do not use a “preponderance of the evidence” threshold for guilt and instead require a higher standard of evidence for conviction, despite a federal order to use the lower evidence standard.
Student civil liberties groups such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have criticized the use of the preponderance standard, saying it encourages the wrongful suspension or expulsion of innocent students.
In general, McCaskill’s report found that the largest universities, both public and private, were more likely to have desired procedures in place to check sexual assault, while for-profit colleges were less likely to have such procedures, a reality that may reflect their generally smaller campus sizes.
McCaskill has emerged as one of the Senate’s leading crusaders on the issue of sexual assault, which has risen in prominence over the last several years. Activists cite Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data that says 20 percent of women experience sexual assault in college, though other groups dispute that number as exaggerated.
McCaskill is expected to introduce a bill later this month that will seek to address campus sexual assault in a bipartisan manner.
Once introduced, the bill would be part of a wider escalation of national focus on the sexual assault issue. Last May, the Obama administration announced that 55 colleges were under investigation for possible Title IX violations related to their handling of sexual assault.
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