Senator Claire McCaskill accused colleges and universities across the country of violating federal laws by ignoring cases of sexual assault on campus. As evidence for her allegations, the Missouri Democrat released a report on Wednesday that featured a nationwide survey of responses gathered from over 300 institutions of higher learning.
The report revealed severe flaws in staff training and institutional reactions to students’ claims of sexual violence. Some of the more glaring lapses involved responses by security personnel. Campus law enforcement at 30 percent of the schools stated that they had received no training on the handling of sexual abuse cases. Law enforcement personnel at 70 percent of colleges stated that they do not have protocols for working with local police on responding to incidents of sexual violence. Perhaps more dismaying was the statistic showing that over 20 percent of the institutions let their athletic departments handle the supervision of sexual assault cases involving student athletes.
According to another statistic, over 40 percent of schools included in the survey have not investigated a case of sexual violence on campus in the last five years. McCaskill particularly emphasized this point, saying that it was “hard to believe” that in five years there have been absolutely no cases of sexual abuse at these schools.
The senator accusing colleges of ignoring sexual assault cases intends to use the report as a way of informing legislation that she is writing with a bipartisan team that includes Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) as well as Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.). The senators hope to release the bill, which aims to improve campus disciplinary proceedings, around the beginning of the academic school year.
The Obama administration has also addressed the issue. In April, it released a report that offered ways to combat sexual abuse on campus. In another positive step, the Education Department is working toward updating the Clery Act such that institutions of higher learning will be required to publicly report all crimes on or near campus. The administration also hopes to make campus climate surveys on the issue mandatory by 2016. Currently, only 16 percent of schools conduct surveys for determining the extent of sexual violence on campus.
General Counsel of the American Council on Education Ada Meloy claimed that the report was unfair and written so as to “excoriate” schools. Meloy stated that, in addition to herself, many college administrators also felt that the survey was biased. One particular point she addressed was the lack of the “not applicable” option. One example of questions where this made a difference asked respondents if they educate fraternities and sororities about sexual abuse. Schools without any Greek life were forced to answer in the negative.
The issue of sexual abuse appeared in headlines on Tuesday when two University of Miami football players were arrested and charged with sexual battery of a 17-year-old girl. The players, JaWand Blue and Alexander Figueroa, were subsequently kicked off the team, suspended from the university, and barred from campus. Both of the 20-year-old men turned themselves into police, and admitted to getting the girl drunk and then raping her several times. The arrest report noted that the victim had also been drugged and was incapable of resisting the attack. The incident, which occurred in Figueroa’s dorm room on Saturday, was investigated by Coral Gables police after the victim reported it to university police.
The case in Miami stands in stark contrast to a recent incident involving students at Virginia’s James Madison University. The former JMU student Sarah Butters accused three men, whom she said were her close friends, of sexually assaulting her while the group was on spring break in Panama City, Florida. A video of the incident, which occurred in 2013, was already being shared on campus by the time Butters returned to school. The video reportedly shows Butters saying “This isn’t okay” while the three men laugh and grope her.
The university found the three men to be guilty of sexual assault and harassment, but punished them with being barred from campus only after they finish school. The inordinately lax expulsion-after-graduation punishment provoked a wave of outrage both on campus and across the country.
Butters was forced to withdraw from the university after the adjudication process caused her grades to slip. She lost her financial aid as a result. The former student filed a federal complaint following the university’s decision, prompting a probe by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
The incidents are only two examples in a trend brought to light by Senator Claire McCaskill’s accusations of colleges ignoring sexual assault. The report she brought as evidence for her charges uncovers the extreme depth and scale of this profoundly disturbing state of affairs.
By Yitzchak Besser