Colleges and universities have a long way to go to address instances of sexual assault on their campuses, according to a new report released by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Wednesday.
Based on a random survey of 440 four-year colleges who also chose to respond, the report examined campus policies for responding to and investigating reports of sexual assault, as well as how well their train their faculty and staff and involve local law enforcement in the process. In all categories, the results were less than favorable, the report said.
Despite the fact that many advocates have encouraged colleges to conduct campus climate surveys to get a more accurate picture of sexual assault issues, just 16 percent of the institutions surveyed said they conduct such student surveys. Colleges also fall short when it comes to training their staff and responding to incidents of sexual violence. More than 1 in 5 colleges provide no sexual assault response training whatsoever to faculty and staff, the survey found. And when colleges do receive reports of sexual assault, many instances appear to go uninvestigated. More than 40 percent of the schools surveyed have not conducted a single investigation in the past five years, and 20 percent of the largest private institutions (with enrollments more than 10,000) investigated fewer incidents than the numbers they reported to the Department of Education.
The results of the survey show that America's colleges "need a wake-up call," McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.
"The disturbing bottom line is that many institutions are violating the law and failing to follow best practices in how they handle sexual violence," McCaskill wrote. "And these failures affect nearly every stage of institutions' responses to such crimes."
McCaskill claims schools appear to be violating federal law on several counts. For one, Title IX requires colleges and universities to assign a designated coordinator who is responsible for managing the campus's compliance efforts and investigations of sexual assault. But the survey found more than 1 in 10 colleges do not have such a coordinator.
Federal law under Title IX also requires colleges to conduct adjudication processes when they receive reports of sexual assault to determine whether the assault has occurred and to come to a final decision if one did occur, but McCaskill's survey found many school policies don't line up with best practices. During three round-table discussions McCaskill and other Democratic senators hosted on the topic throughout May and June, experts agreed students should not serve on the boards investigating sexual assault cases, but more than one-quarter reported allowing students to do so.
"To be sure, there are schools that are working hard every day to protect their students and crack down on violence in a transparent and accountable way," McCaskill wrote. "And those schools deserve credit for their efforts. Unfortunately, too many schools are failing – and all schools have room for improvement."
Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said the survey provides a "much-needed insight" into how colleges approach the issue.
"It will help us identify and fix systemic problems, such as the large number of campuses that currently provide no training for law enforcement, students or employees, as well as the alarming number that leave oversight of some cases to the athletic department," Berkowitz said in a release. "Overall, it will be very valuable as we work with Congress and colleges to reduce the number of assaults, bring more rapists to justice, and provide victims with the help they deserve."
McCaskill said the results of the survey, as well as information provided during the round-table discussions, will inform new legislation she plans to introduce along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.