Senator’s Survey Finds Subpar Response From Colleges to Sexual Assault

July 09, 2014

More than 40 percent of colleges have not conducted a single sexual-assault investigation in the past five years, according to the results of a national survey released on Wednesday by Sen. Claire McCaskill. The on-the-ground details of campus sexual assault and the capacity of officials there to respond to it should serve as a "wake-up call" for colleges, said Ms. McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who recently held three roundtable discussions on the issue.

The survey results come as colleges are confronting their legal responsibilities to investigate and resolve reports of sexual violence, under pressure from activists and the White House. The Education Department is now investigating more than 60 colleges for possible mishandling of alleged sexual misconduct. Campus sexual assault was also the subject of a recent Senate hearing and proposed regulations.

"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," Ms. McCaskill said at a news conference on Wednesday.

More than 10 percent of the 319 institutions that responded to the survey do not have a Title IX coordinator, which is a violation of the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX.

Effective practices for resolving sexual-misconduct cases include banning students and athletics departments from adjudication boards, says Ms. McCaskill’s report on the survey, prepared by the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, which she leads. Yet at 27 percent of colleges that responded to the survey, students serve on such hearing boards, and at 22 percent of colleges, athletics departments oversee cases involving athletes.

The survey also identified deficiencies in training—for campus law-enforcement officials, faculty and staff members, and students. Each group did not receive any training on sexual assault at a significant minority of colleges (30 percent, more than 20 percent, and more than 30 percent of institutions, respectively). Also, most colleges—more than 70 percent—did not have protocols for working with local law-enforcement authorities on sexual-assault cases.

Developing such partnerships and training students and employees were two recommendations this spring from the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. Another: that colleges conduct confidential climate surveys to gain insight into sexual assault on campuses. Ms. McCaskill found, however, that only 16 percent of colleges had completed climate surveys.

The senator promised confidentiality to colleges to encourage participation in the survey. In May she criticized the American Council on Education for offering a webinar in which a law firm warned colleges about responding to the survey. She was "extremely troubled," she wrote, by what she perceived as "a chilling effect on institutions’ participation," according to news reports.

Out of the 440 institutions contacted by Ms. McCaskill in three rounds of sampling, more than 70 percent responded to the 28-question survey, which adapted questions from the National Institute of Justice.

The survey results, as well as insights from the three roundtables, will inform bipartisan legislation, Ms. McCaskill said, that she plans to introduce in late August or early September.