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Colleges Falling Short on Sexual Assault Investigations, Survey Finds

Colleges Falling Short on Sexual Assault Investigations, Survey Finds

July 10, 2014 — Many colleges and universities are failing to investigate sexual assaults on campuses, despite federal law that requires them to do so, according to survey results released by Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) office, the AP/ABC News reports (Hefling, AP/ABC News, 7/9).

Under federal law, universities and colleges that receive federal funding and are aware of sexual violence allegations are required to investigate the incidents, according to NPR's "All Things Considered" (Sullivan, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/9).

McCaskill's office conducted the nationwide survey to gauge how campuses and local law enforcement deal with sexual assault investigations. It was sent to 440 four-year colleges and universities (AP/ABC News, 7/9). It yielded 319 responses. The results were divided among 236 schools that receive federal financial aid; 49 large, public schools; and 34 private, not-for-profit schools (Watanabe, "L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/9).

Key Findings

The findings do not name schools individually, which McCaskill said was key to encouraging schools to reply to the survey.

The survey found that about 41% of respondents had not investigated a single sexual assault case in the last five years ("All Things Considered," NPR, 7/9). McCaskill said that percentage is worrisome given that an estimated one in five women in college experience a sexual assault.

"[I]t's very bad because that means [colleges and universities] are either in denial or incompetent," she said (AP/ABC News, 7/9).

The survey also found that about 9% of respondents in the national sample and 21% of respondents in the smaller sample of private, not-for-profit schools conducted fewer investigations than the number of sexual assaults that were reported to the federal government. In addition, almost 75% of the schools in the national sample that did conduct investigations did not work with local law enforcement during the process ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/9).

Coordination with law enforcement varies among schools, the survey found. About 40% of respondents said they deploy sworn law enforcement officers on campus, while half use local authorities and many others use private security. Only about 25% of respondents have specific protocols for how local law enforcement and campuses should work together, and only 25% include the prosecutor's office on their investigation teams (AP/ABC News, 7/9).

As for preventive resources and education, roughly 20% of respondents in the total sample do not train staff and faculty to deal with sexual assault reports, which is an improvement from 49% in 2002. The survey also found that just over half of campuses in the total sample use hotlines for reporting incidents.

Only 16% of all respondents use surveys to estimate the prevalence of sexual assault among students. According to "L.A. Now," the federal government is urging all colleges and universities that receive federal funding to implement surveys and prevention programs in the fall. The surveys are considered one of the best ways to gauge campus violence because many incidents are not reported ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/9).

Sen. McCaskill Pens Op-Ed

In an opinion piece in USA Today, McCaskill called the survey results a "call to action."

McCaskill -- along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and others -- is crafting legislation to address campus sexual assault. "If we're going to turn the tide against sexual violence, survivors must be protected and empowered," she wrote in the op-ed (McCaskill, USA Today, 7/9).