U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says a staff survey of 440 colleges and universities regarding campus sexual assaults has found that 41 percent of those responding “have not conducted a single investigation in five years” despite allegations by possible victims.
That finding is disturbing, McCaskill told reporters Wednesday because it means those colleges "are saying there are zero instances of sexual assault, which is hard to believe."
The results also mean, she added, that several of the nation’s top institutions of higher education are breaking federal laws that require that any reported or suspected sexual assaults on college campuses be investigated.
“More than 21 percent of the nation’s largest private institutions conducted fewer investigations than the number of incidents they reported to the Department of Education, with some institutions reporting as many as seven times more incidents of sexual violence than they have investigated,” she said.
The survey's results, released Wednesday, included reports from the 235 institutions that responded to the query, including almost all of the nation's largest 50 colleges and institutions, she said.
None of the institutions is identified in the report, including which ones responded and how many were from Missouri. The survey was conducted by McCaskill's Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight.
McCaskill did say that for-profit colleges and institutions "were the worst" in complying with federal mandates regarding sexual assault cases. Smaller institutions also were less likely to follow the federal requirements, she added.
Athletic officials, students often involved in campus probes
The senator was particularly disturbed by the practice of many colleges, especially smaller ones, to allow students to serve on the campus bodies dealing with sexual assault accusations. She said that means the student-investigators are likely to know the alleged victims and assailants.
On many campuses, the athletic departments also oversee any sexual-assault allegations directed at athletes, she added. McCaskill objects to that practice.
The survey also noted:
- "According to the most recent report conducted by the Department of Justice, less than 5% of rape victims attending college report their attack to law enforcement. Experts agree that annual climate surveys—confidential student surveys regarding behaviors that constitute or are associated with sexual assault—are one of the best ways to get an accurate portrait of sexual assault issues on a campus. However, only 16% of the institutions in the Subcommittee’s national sample conduct climate surveys."
- "More than 20% of institutions in the national sample provide no sexual assault response training at all for members of their faculty and staff. More than 30% of schools do not provide any sexual assault training for students."
- "...only 51% of institutions in the national sample provide a hotline to survivors and only
44% of institutions in the national sample provide the option to report sexual assaults
online. Approximately 8% of institutions still do not allow confidential reporting."
“If we’re going to turn the tide against sexual violence, survivors must be protected, empowered and given the confidence that if they make the difficult choice to report a crime, they will be treated with respect and taken seriously,” McCaskill said.
“This means we need institutions across the country to recognize sexual violence for what it is — a crime — and work to prevent it and effectively address it when it does occur. Unfortunately, the disturbing bottom line of this unprecedented, nationwide survey is that many institutions continually violate the law and fail to follow best practices in how they handle sexual violence. These failures affect nearly every stage of institutions’ response to such crimes, and these results should serve as a call to action to our colleges and universities to tackle this terrible crime.”
Bipartisan legislation to address campus shortcomings
Her office is not releasing the names of the surveyed institutions because they apparently were granted anonymity "to obtain candid feedback from each school.”
But McCaskill told reporters that the survey results “will be followed in the coming weeks by the introduction of comprehensive, bipartisan legislation.” The bills are likely to be introduced this fall, she said.
McCaskill said during the conference call that there still seems to be a "blame-the-victim'' mentality on college campuses regarding sexual assault, especially when the victim is alleged to have used alcohol or illegal substances.
"Victims of crime do not have to have perfect judgment,'' said McCaskill, a former prosecutor. She added that a high percentage of victims tend to be freshmen or new students. Referring to the alleged assailants, she said, "some of these predators are looking for an easy mark."
Last week, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the Rolla campus of the University of Missouri, acknowledged that the Department of Education is investigating sexual assault policies at the school. A statement said the campus could not discuss details because the investigation is ongoing, but added:
"The university is cooperating fully with the Department of Education in the investigation and continues to place a high priority on the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff and campus visitors."
Responding Wednesday to the McCaskill report, Tim Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri system, said in a series of posts on Twitter:
"We welcome the focus of Senator @clairecmc on the problem of campus sexual assault, and will continue to work with her in addressing this challenging, societal issue. Together with the work of our sexual assault/ mental health services task force, the executive order I signed and new amended language to our collected rules that strengthen our Title IX policies, we intend to establish the University of Missouri as the national model in terms of providing effective and compassionate sexual assault and mental health services to our students."