US universities ‘failing to investigate sexual assaults’

Survey of institutions by senate subcommittee shows many are failing to meet legal obligations

July 10, 2014

Universities in the US are failing to comply with the law by not investigating reported incidents of sexual violence on campus, according to a high profile report by the US Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight.

Although federal law requires institutions that could reasonably be expected to have known about sexual violence cases to conduct an investigation, more than 40 per cent of the 440 colleges surveyed by in the report, which was led by subcommittee chair Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, had not conducted a single investigation in the past five years.

The report, Sexual violence on campus: How too many institutions of higher education are failing to protect students, finds that more than 20 per cent of the US’s largest private institutions conducted fewer investigations than the number of incidents they reported to the Department of Education, while some colleges reported up to seven times more incidents of sexual violence than they had investigated.

It also found that one in five US universities do not train employees in how to deal with victims of sexual assault, while around a third (31 per cent) fail to educate students on preventing such assaults.

According to the US Department of Justice, fewer than 5 per cent of rape victims attending college report their attack to law enforcement, the report states. However, it adds that although experts recommend that anonymous “climate surveys” of students (which monitor behaviours that constitute or are associated with sexual assault), only 16 per cent of the institutions carry them out.

There is also widespread failure to encourage the reporting of sexual violence on campus, the report says. Policies that have been shown to improve such reporting, including allowing reports to be made via phone or online, designating an official to handle reports, and permitting survivor reports to be kept confidentially, were also not implemented enough. Just 51 per cent of institutions surveyed said they provide a hotline to survivors, and 44 per cent give students the option to report sexual assaults online. Around 8 per cent of institutions still do not allow confidential reporting, the report says.

A “lack of adequate services for survivors” of sexual violence was also a problem in some institutions, while more than 70 per cent of institutions surveyed do not have protocols in place regarding how it should work with local police to respond to cases of sexual violence.

“The survey results showed that many institutions are failing to comply with the law and best practices in how they handle sexual violence among students,” the subcommittee’s report says. “These problems affect nearly every stage of the institutions’ responses to sexual violence.”

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