WASHINGTON — Many of America's colleges and universities are failing to comply with federal laws and key policies designed to combat sexual assault on their campuses, according to a new report released Wednesday by Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The Missouri Democrat said a national survey — in which her office polled 350 institutions of higher education — reveals major gaps in how schools report, investigate, and resolve allegations of rape on college campuses.
McCaskill launched the survey earlier this year, as she and other Washington policymakers moved to put the spotlight on the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. About one in five women have been the victim of a sexual attack during college, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Wednesday's report highlights a bevy of hurdles to addressing such crimes. Among the findings:
• Universities don't know the scope of the problem. Only 16% of schools conduct so-called climate surveys aimed at determining the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, even though experts say such questionnaires are one of the best tools to get accurate data about the problem.
• Many schools do not make it easy for victims to report attacks anonymously. Only about half of U.S. colleges have a hotline that victims can call to report a sexual assault. And 44% give students the option of reporting attacks online.
• Sexual assault charges often are not investigated. More than 40% of schools said they had not conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years, even though some of those same institutions reported sexual violence incidents to the Department of Education in that same period.
• Many schools do not provide training to faculty, staff or students. About 20% of universities said they don't provide training to faculty and staff for how to respond to a sexual assault allegation, and more than 30% of schools do not offer such training to students.
"These problems affect nearly every stage of the institutions' response to sexual violence," the report concludes. "Many institutions are failing to comply with the law and best practices in how they handle sexual violence among students."
The report comes as McCaskill and other lawmakers are working on legislation to improve the way schools handle sexual assault. They're expecting to introduce a bipartisan bill later this month.
A White House task force, created earlier this year by President Obama, also outlined new measures aimed at combating sexual assault on college campuses. Among other things, the task force urged college officials to conduct anonymous "climate surveys" of their students to measure the incidence of sexual assault. Officials want to make those surveys mandatory by 2016.