U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, says a new government study shows changes are needed in the way federal agencies track and report cases of sexual assault.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, released last week, found that four separate federal agencies – the departments of Education, Defense, Justice and Health and Human Services – keep track of data on sexual violence.
Those departments have at least 10 programs to collect the information, and they use 23 different terms to describe sexual violence, the GAO found.
“Further,” the report said, “these data collection efforts do not have publicly available descriptions of what is included in their respective measurements to allow persons using the data to understand the differences, which may lead to confusion for data users.
“Publicly available measurement information could enhance the clarity and transparency of sexual violence data. Data collection efforts also differ in terms of the context in which data are collected, data sources, units of measurement, and time frames.”
McCaskill, who has been active in efforts to curb sexual violence on campus and in the military, said the GAO study shows a serious need to change how the government keeps track of such assaults.
“As we continue to make progress in combating sexual assault and empowering survivors to come out of the shadows,” she said in a statement from her office, “we’ve got to have a way to measure that progress that’s standard and transparent.
“Without the ability to make apples to apples comparisons across populations — whether that’s college students, our military, or other groups — it’s difficult to measure trends over time and determine how we’re doing in terms of reducing incidents and boosting reporting. These agencies have to share their collection information publicly and talk to each other to develop real standards.”
McCaskill traveled across Missouri in 2014 to visit campuses and hear from students, educators and others on how to best combat sexual assault at colleges and universities. In her event at Harris-Stowe in St. Louis that year, she noted that some schools try to make themselves look good and safe by not reporting crimes that have occurred.
“That should be a danger sign,” she said. “That should not be reassurance that that campus is safe.”
A survey she released then showed that more than 40 percent of schools have not conducted a single investigation in five years, 21 percent of schools provide no training to faculty and staff, and 31 percent provide no training for students.
McCaskill also has been active in pushing for passage of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bill that would help protect students, strengthen accountability and transparency and punish violators.
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