CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
Many schools are still failing to take the necessary steps to prevent and respond to cases of sexual assault, according to the results from a national survey that collected data from hundreds of colleges and universities across the country. The first-of-its-kind survey was commissioned by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and will help inform the lawmaker’s efforts to draft legislation aimed at fixing the campus sexual assault crisis, which has garnered national attention over the past several months.
More than 200 colleges and universities provided responses to McCaskill’s survey. The responses indicate that, from campus police to university staff, few people are doing enough to ensure that rape allegations are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. The senator is referring to her findings as a “wake up call.”
“We think it’s really important that this information be used aggressively to inform colleges and universities that they are falling short,” McCaskill told reporters on Wednesday.
In many cases, schools that lack adequate policies in this area are in direct violation of federal law, which requires higher education institutions to take some concrete steps to investigate rape reports and implement sexual assault training. Nonetheless, the survey identified major failings among all of the groups that are involved in creating a campus culture around issues of sexual assault:
University faculty and staff: About 20 percent of the schools that participated in the survey don’t provide any sexual assault response training for their faculty and staff to teach them how to respond to students who disclose they’ve been raped. On top of that, many university administrators simply aren’t taking sexual assault reports seriously enough. Despite the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, more than 40 percent of the surveyed schools said they haven’t conducted a single sexual assault investigation within the past five years.
College students: A third of schools said that they don’t provide any sexual assault training for students, even though that’s one of the prevention tactics that’s regularly recommended by experts in the field. That number rises to 53 percent among schools with fewer than 1,000 students and 72 percent among private for-profit institutions. Schools aren’t ensuring this training reaches the populations that are most likely to commit assaults, either; just 22 people of respondents said they provide sexual violence training targeted at the Greek system, and just 37 percent provide training targeted at student athletes.
People who oversee sexual assault cases: It’s particularly concerning that this lack of training extends to the people who are specifically charged with adjudicating rape cases. More than 30 percent of surveyed schools don’t train those people about common “rape myths,” like the notion that sexual assaults never occur among people who are casually dating. Plus, some schools give inappropriate amounts of power to groups that shouldn’t necessarily be involved in these proceedings. More than 40 percent of the country’s largest public schools allow students to help adjudicate sexual assault cases, and more than 20 percent of schools allow their athletic department to have oversight of cases involving student athletes.
Law enforcement: At a third of the schools that participated in the survey, the law enforcement officials charged with handling rape reports don’t actually receive any training on how to respond to sexual violence. And more than 70 percent of institutions don’t have effective guidelines about how local law enforcement should coordinate with college officials to work together on responding to sexual assault.
McCaskill is particularly troubled by the fact that some schools are letting athletic departments oversee rape investigations, a practice that she says need to end on all college campuses. “I don’t need to explain why that is a big problem,” the senator said on Wednesday, pointing out that those staff members are likely invested in protecting their athletes. “I think it would scare just about any victim into the shadows.”
Previous surveys conducted by sexual assault prevention groups have also found that the majority of college campuses aren’t implementing the right policies to prevent rape. While the issue clearly runs deep, these types of reforms don’t always have to be dramatic or expensive. They can be as simple as creating a culture of transparency on campus by finding creative ways to publicize the sexual assault resources available to students.