A recent study painted a dreary picture for women on America’s college campuses.
One in five, it said, will suffer sexual assault while in college. Getting drunk makes them more vulnerable to attacks. That makes parties prime hunting grounds for sexual predators, who often know the women they rape.
The January report by the White House Council on Women and Girls found a cadre of particularly dangerous men. Two-thirds of admitted rapists told researchers they’d raped six women each.
Against that backdrop, Sen. Claire McCaskill said Thursday that her staff has launched a national survey of college campuses to see what protections against sexual attacks are in place and how the institutions support women coming forward after assaults.
Meanwhile, the University of Missouri is contemplating changes to its employee policies for sexual violence in the wake of the suicide of a former swimmer. She was the alleged victim of an off-campus rape by as many as three football players in 2010.
Campus rape has drawn increased national attention. California lawmakers are considering rules requiring college officials to take rape cases to police.
Schools already have begun to attack the problem, even as federal officials cite increased violations of Title IX. That portion of the Civil Rights Act ensures women have equal access to a higher education — including safety on campus.
McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, ushered a bill through the Senate this month that looks to rework the prosecution of sexual assault cases in the military. She met recently with MU officials and said she’s determined to make college campuses safer for women.
That might mean tying federal funding for colleges and universities to how well those institutions report rapes and deliver certain services to female students, she said.
“It’s never a good idea to minimize this problem because you’re worried how it might look,” McCaskill told The Star’s editorial board Thursday. “We’ll look to see if we should require, in return for federal funds, some kind of minimal reporting standards and minimal services available.”
On Thursday, University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe received an inventory he ordered campus leaders to conduct on all the resources available to students regarding campus sex crimes.
It’s the first phase of a three-pronged initiative to prevent sexual violence, improve reporting of sexual assault and rape and bolster the process for handling complaints.
“This is a top priority for me and the entire system,” Wolfe said, “since the suicide of Sasha Menu Courey” — the deceased swimmer and purported rape victim.
Wolfe and University of Missouri curators are still waiting for results from an independent counsel investigation judging how the university dealt with Menu Courey. The university learned about the sexual assault allegation after her death. That report, Wolfe said, will be made public April 10.
Wolfe has said he’s prepared to throw university money behind any needed improvements.
In Columbia, MU announced this week it’s considering a policy for training faculty and staff on how to handle reports of sexual harassment or violence. Both are covered by Title IX.
Michael Bates, the Title IX coordinator at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, welcomed McCaskill’s focus on sexual assault on college campuses. He thinks sex crimes are underreported by students at UMKC.
“If they (become) aware of all the avenues that are available to them,” Bates said, “that may bring more reporting.”
In working to overhaul the handling of sexual assault cases in the military, McCaskill came under fire from fellow Senate Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who had pressed competing legislation. Gillibrand’s bill, unlike McCaskill’s, would have taken authority over prosecutions of such cases out of the hands of military commanders. Gillibrand’s measure stalled, partly because of a filibuster by McCaskill.
McCaskill now wants to shine more attention on what colleges do to protect their students against sexual attacks.
“Hopefully, legislation won’t be necessary,” the senator said. “Hopefully, we can do this through a large national effort.”
After her staff completes its research, McCaskill said, she plans to gather college presidents, the Association of University Women and others in higher education to create a consensus for reforms.
“Many times a sexual assault occurs in an environment where (victims) do way too much self-blaming and they shouldn’t,” she said. “No one, just because you had too much to drink, no one deserves to get criminally assaulted.”
In Warrensburg, University of Central Missouri police chief Kim Vansell said the school recently ramped up its “effort looking at how we handle victims who report, how we handle offenders and our process.”
She said many sexual assaults go unreported partly because the “criminal justice system in general is not victim-friendly.”
“I welcome anyone looking at the process,” Vansell said. “Are we doing things effectively? Are we doing the right thing for campus safety, and is it the right thing for the victim?”