- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A stunning number of U.S. colleges and universities said they didn’t investigate a single sexual assault on their campuses over the last five years, according to a new report released Wednesday by Sen. Claire McCaskill who said it signals many schools are in denial.

Some schools reported fewer investigations to Ms. McCaskill than they reported actual assaults to the Education Department.

And some schools that had conducted investigations let their athletics departments handle the probe when athletes are involved, the Missouri Democrat’s survey found.

“You cannot expect an athletic department who is in charge of giving a scholarship or depending on the athletic prowess of a young man or woman, that they will be fair or at least have the appearance of being fair, which is the first basic necessity,” she said. “I think it would scare just about any victim into the shadows.”

Her survey looked at 440 colleges and universities across the country. That includes 350 randomly selected schools representative of facilities across the country, as well as 50 of the largest public universities and 40 large nonprofit schools. The survey represented schools attended by more than 5 million students.

Of those schools, 41 percent didn’t report an assault to the Education Department in the last five years. It is unclear from Ms. McCaskill’s investigation how many schools had reported rapes or sexual assaults to police in that period.

And 20 percent reported fewer investigations to Ms. McCaskill than they reported total number of assaults as part of federal record-keeping.

“On its face, they are violating the law because they are required to investigate every report. So if they’re acknowledging that they’re not investigating as many incidents as they’re reporting, obviously we’ve got serious work to do,” Ms. McCaskill said.

Scott Berkowitz, founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said schools that don’t investigate assault reports make students less likely to come forward in the future.

“It’s hard enough to get people to report, to not do anything about it is very troubling,” he said.

Despite her claim that schools have openly acknowledged breaking the law in the survey, Ms. McCaskill said she will not report any of the schools to the Education Department or release the names of any schools who participated in the survey.

“We made a decision that this was going to be absolutely confidential because we were more interested in the accuracy of the data than we were in calling out any of the schools or playing gotcha,” she said.

She will, however, write legislation later this year that will require schools to survey students on the sexual assault climate on campus, and would standardize adjudication for assault accusations nationwide.

Her legislation also will simplify the laws governing schools’ compliance. Many schools complained they are spending too much time figuring out if they are in compliance and not enough actually helping students, Ms. McCaskill said.

But Tracey Vitchers, chair of the board at Students Active for Ending Rape, said colleges have teams of lawyers and other federal resources to help them figure out the rules.

“I think that schools like to find excuses for why they’re not doing prevention and survivor resources then need to be doing. It’s kind of an easy way out,” she said.

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