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Senator Releases Survey Results on Sexual Assault

July 10, 2014

As part of her campaign to highlight problems with the way colleges and universities deal with campus sexual assaults, last week Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) released "Sexual Violence on Campus: How Too Many Institutions of Higher Education Are Failing to Protect Students." McCaskill hopes the report will serve as a "wakeup call" to institutions of higher education. The report identifies several instances where schools are failing to provide adequate training, victim support, coordination with law enforcement, and an appropriate formal adjudication process.

The survey itself stirred up controversy when McCaskill took issue with the American Council on Education for offering guidance to its members on responding. Ada Meloy, ACE's general counsel, was disappointed in the report. "ACE had hopes for a more balanced report, not a blanket indictment that draws unwarranted conclusions and ignores how hard institutions are working to address this serious and complex societal issue," she said.

The report is based on a survey sent to 440 four-year institutions from the public, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors. Responses were received from more than 300 schools, with greater participation by larger institutions. The survey report delineates the responses based on three samples selected: 1) a national sample representing all types of institutions, 2) the largest public institution in each state, and 3) all nonprofit institutions with more than 15,000 students. Notably 40 percent of institutions in the national sample identified their schools as nonresidential, and 11 percent of the for-profit institutions were exclusively online. The survey questions did not allow colleges and universities the option to answer "not applicable".

Findings from the report include:

  • Failure to encourage reporting sexual violence. Fifty-one percent of the institutions surveyed provide a 24-hour hotline and 44 percent allow online reporting. Larger universities were considerably more likely to do so, however, with about three quarters providing these options.
  • Failure to provide training. The survey revealed that over half of small institutions (those with less than 1,000 students) do not provide training to students. There are, however, marked differences between the sectors, with for-profit institutions much less likely to provide training, but the report provides no breakdown by type and size of institution.
  • Investigating sexual assaults. Although schools are required to investigate incidents of sexual assault, only 41 percent of the schools surveyed conducted a single investigation in the past five years. Certain types of institutions were less likely to have done so: 81 percent of private for-profits and 77 percent of institutions with fewer than 1,000 students have not conducted a single investigation.
  • Lack of coordination with law enforcement. More than 73 percent of institutions in the national sample do not have written protocols regarding coordination with law enforcement and how they would work together to respond to incidents of assault. In addition, law enforcement at 30 percent of the institutions surveyed does not receive training on how to adequately interview victims and gather evidence. The report does not cross-tabulate these results with data collected on the type of law enforcement/security operations provided on campus.
  • Adjudication process fails to comply with requirements. The report alleges that many schools surveyed do not comply with best practices as it pertains to the adjudication process. Approximately 13 percent of institutions in the national sample fail to make information about the process available to students (again the percentage is highest among small and for-profit institutions). In addition, although having fellow students involved in the adjudication process can be problematic for a myriad of reasons, 27 percent of institutions reported having students participate in adjudicating sexual assault crimes.
  • Oversight requirements. Federal regulations require institutions to designate one individual serve as the Title IX coordinator, yet more than 10 percent of the institutions in the survey sample report not having appointed one.

In April, the White House released recommendations of a Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. McCaskill, who has held a series of roundtable discussions focusing on this topic, plans to introduce comprehensive, bipartisan legislation soon, even though a number of new requirements were recently imposed on colleges and universities by the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The Department of Education is expected to finalize new regulations by November 1.

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Khesia Taylor
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