Sexual assault victims on college campuses need more help

04/17/2014 6:26 PM

04/17/2014 6:26 PM

The horrifying numbers of sexual assaults against women on college campuses are finally gaining more intense scrutiny, including on local campuses and in Washington.

Too many young women, for a variety of reasons, do not report rapes and other sexual assaults committed against them. Some universities poorly handle the incidents they know about. Some don’t offer enough help to students involved in these tragedies.

The University of Missouri recently conceded it made mistakes involving the case of sexual assault allegations by former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, who committed suicide in 2011. An outside review by a law firm pointed out the errors. They included the disappointing fact that the university had not followed federal guidelines when handling the initial report of an assault, and that the MU staff did not know enough about its legal responsibilities in following federal rules.

University of Missouri system officials, led by President Tim Wolfe, must keep their recent pledges that they will improve the reports and responses to sexual assaults on their four campuses. That should include efforts to make the University of Missouri-Kansas City safer for students.

Separately, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill this week sent a survey to 350 colleges and universities to find out how they report and investigate these assaults. McCaskill says she wants to better understand the scope of the challenges faced by the schools — and perhaps see what works and doesn’t work right now — before proposing needed fixes.

While that approach makes sense, the surveys must be carefully evaluated. Some universities are not likely to rush to admit they have made mistakes — as MU did — in following already-established federal laws.

Too many young women at universities do not think anyone will listen to them or do anything to their attackers. The best way to change that kind of thinking is to create a new reality, where sexual assaults are taken more seriously.

We need a national effort by colleges to offer swift and effective help to victims, and tough punishment for criminals involved in the assaults.

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