NEWSFLASH: Nationwide Survey Finds Colleges are Failing Sexual Assault Survivors

McCaskillHundreds of colleges and universities across the nation are in violation of federal law by not responding adequately to allegations of on-campus sexual assault, a new report has found.

The report, commissioned by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), draws on survey responses from over 300 public and private schools. Most startlingly, it found that over 40 percent of schools have not investigated a single case of sexual violence over the past five years. McCaskill told the Associated Press,

On first blush, a parent would think that’s good, they don’t have a problem with sexual assault on their campus. But it’s not good, it’s very bad, because that means they are either in denial or incompetent.

That statistic could be because of the deeply inadequate amount of training for school officials. The report found that “more than 20 percent of schools in the national sample provided no sexual-assault response training for faculty and staff. More than 30 percent provided no training for students.” Law enforcement officials at 30 percent of the schools say they, too, have received no training

The report also uncovered drastic problems with the judicial process for sexual assaults:

More than 40 percent of the nation’s largest public schools allow students to help adjudicate sexual assault cases. More than 20 percent of institutions in the national sample give the athletic department oversight of sexual violence cases involving student athletes.

There are clear potentials for conflicts of interest when cases are handled this way. McCaskill was particularly concerned with the involvement of athletic departments in cases involving their own students. The Washington Post reports McCaskill saying, “‘I think it would scare just about any victim into the shadows.”

Despite figures showing that 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted at some time during their four years in college, , few schools are doing much to learn about the problem on their campuses. Although a White House task force has recommended that schools conduct campus “climate surveys” to allow students to share their experiences with sexual assault they might not otherwise report, McCaskill’s study found that just 16 percent of schools conduct surveys of this kind.

Thankfully, some good is likely to come as a result of unearthing this new information, as Politico reports,

McCaskill (D-Mo.) plans to use the findings to inform legislation she’s writing with a bipartisan team that includes Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). They plan to release the bill, which would tighten campus disciplinary proceedings, in late August or early September as students head back to campus.

While it’s great to gather as much information as we can about this nationwide problem through surveys, the real work of legislating to drastically curtail the frequency of sexual assault is on its way.

Photo of Sen. Claire McCaskill courtesy Wikimedia Commons.





Robin Jones Kerr is a journalism major and women’s studies minor at George Washington University, and an intern at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.