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U.S. colleges fall short in handling sexual assault cases, report says

Sexual MisconductCrimeSexual AssaultLaws and LegislationGovernmentPoliticsDemocracy
National survey finds colleges are failing to adequately investigate campus sexual misconduct
Colleges fall short in training faculty, staff and students on handling sexual assault cases
About half of colleges and universities don't offer websites or 24-hour hotlines to report sexual misconduct

U.S. colleges and universities are failing to effectively investigate sexual misconduct cases on campus, with efforts hobbled by inadequate training and limited reporting channels, according to a national survey released Wednesday.

The survey, which yielded responses from 319 four-year, public and private campuses, was conducted by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). The former sex crimes prosecutor has helped lead growing federal efforts to crack down on campus sexual assault.

"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," she said in a statement. "These results should serve as a call to action to our colleges and universities."

At least four California campuses are under investigation by the U.S. Dept. of Education for their handling of sexual misconduct complaints. UC Berkeley, USC, Occidental College and Butte-Glen Community College District were among 55 campuses named in May as targets of a federal probe.

The survey, which did not provide names of participants, included responses from a national sample of 236 four-year institutions that receive federal financial aid, 49 large public four-year campuses and 34 private, nonprofit schools. The samples yielded different results. In general, the smaller campuses reported fewer resources to assist victims of sexual assault.

Among the findings:

--Only 16% of colleges in the national sample conduct surveys to assess the campus climate toward sexual misconduct. Such surveys are regarded as one of the best ways to get an accurate picture of campus sexual violence, which law enforcement officials say is widely underreported. The federal government, however, is pushing all campuses to conduct the surveys beginning this fall.

--Hotlines to report sexual assault are operated by 51% of institutions in the national sample, 73% of large public campuses and 82% of large private schools. Online reporting options are available at 44% of campuses in the national sample, 88% at public colleges and 74% at private schools.

--About 20% of colleges in the national sample fail to provide training for staff and faculty on how to respond to sexual assault allegations. The report noted an improvement since 2002, when 49% failed to provide training. About 8% of public universities and 15% of private schools did not provide training.

--Nearly a third of campuses provide no training for students on sexual assault. The federal government, however, is asking all campuses that receive federal funds to launch prevention programs this fall.

--About 9% of campuses in the national sample and 21% of private schools conducted fewer investigations of sexual offenses than the number of incidents they reported to the federal government. The figures indicate that they are failing to aggressively probe sexual misconduct, the report said.

The survey also found what McCaskill called flaws in how sexual misconduct cases are investigated and resolved. Students are allowed to participate in the process at 43% of large public schools, for instance, despite an "overwhelming majority" view of experts that they could present conflicts of interest or jeopardize the privacy rights of those involved, the report said.

Nearly three-fourths of campuses in the national sample had no system established to work with law enforcement on sexual assault cases. And although the federal government has instructed all campuses to use a "preponderance of evidence" standard in determining cases, 15% of campuses in the national sample still use a higher standard, the survey found.

In addition, one in five small colleges have failed to designate a Title IX coordinator to monitor compliance with the law, which bars discrimination at schools that receive federal funds.

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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