Colleges fall short on campus sexual assault cases, Sen. Claire McCaskill says

07/09/2014 7:29 PM

07/09/2014 7:30 PM

A survey of sexual violence on American campuses found that many schools fall short in how they investigate and resolve such claims, Sen. Claire McCaskill said Wednesday.

“This shows there are way too many schools that are failing,” the Missouri Democrat said at a news conference.

McCaskill said that perhaps the most disturbing finding in the survey was that 41 percent of the 236 schools that responded said they hadn’t conducted a single investigation on sexual assaults in the past five years. By law, every case must be investigated, she said.

“It is obviously a serious indictment that you have that many schools that have not investigated a single case,” McCaskill said.

The survey found that many schools did not take steps that would encourage students to report sexual violence, such as keeping the reports confidential. Schools also failed to provide training for students, faculty and staff on how to respond to reports of sexual assault.

On Twitter, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe said he welcomed McCaskill’s work and said his school system “will continue to work with her in addressing this challenging, societal issue.”

Wolfe has one of his four campuses — the Missouri University of Science and Technology — on the recently released list of schools under Title IX investigation for how sexual assault cases were handled. And last year a spotlight turned to the University of Missouri in Columbia after it was accused of not responding to allegations of the rape of former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, who later committed suicide.

An independent investigation found university administrators had not done everything they should have to report and investigate the Courey case. Wolfe issued an executive order making every university employee a mandated reporter of sexual abuse, with the exception of legal and medical professionals.

Last month, MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said the university is hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator and adding a full-time investigator to better address sexual assault allegations on the campus.

Among the findings from the survey:

More than 40 percent of the nation’s largest public universities allow students to help adjudicate sexual assault claims, which McCaskill said was a bad practice. In a criminal court, members of a jury can’t know the defendant, which she said was not the case in campus sex crime adjudications.

Nearly a third of campus law enforcement officials received no training on how to respond to reports of sexual violence.

About a fourth of schools in the sample allow athletic departments to oversee sexual violence cases involving student athletes.

“You cannot expect the athletic department, which is in charge of giving scholarships, or depends on the athletic prowess of young men or women, that they will be fair, or at least have the appearance of being fair,” McCaskill said.

Roughly half of institutions had a hotline for students who have been sexually assaulted, and slightly fewer provided the option of reporting sexual violence online. About one in 10 do not allow confidential reporting.

McCaskill said the survey and discussions with students, school administrators, law enforcement officials and advocates would help shape legislation. She said her proposal would ensure that adjudication practices are consistent nationwide and require campus surveys on sexual assault, among other changes.

Know Your IX — a group working to help students know their rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits all forms of sex discrimination in education — is urging the senators to revise the law so that schools can be fined for violations regarding sexual assaults.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights now can only punish a school by removing all its federal funding. With only such an extreme option available, it has never sanctioned any school.

The Star’s Mará Rose Williams contributed to this report.

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