A new study says universities are not following existing laws for reporting sexual assaults, which could leave millions of campuses across the country in danger.
An anonymous survey of hundreds of colleges and universities, conducted by a U.S. Senate subcommittee, concluded institutions are not doing enough to protect students from sexual violence, potentially in violation of existing laws. The study is a first step in possibly drafting new federal legislation to deal with sexual assaults on college campuses.
The report found 40 percent of institutions have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, including 6 percent of large universities.
"If they're saying they have not had any investigations, that means - they are in denial - or they are incompetent - or they are not taking this problem seriously," Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-Missouri) said.
The report does not identify any of the universities that participated, McCaskill said, to ensure respondents would answer the survey honestly.
In May, UNC Chapel Hill was named as one of 55 universities nationwide under federal investigation for how it handles sexual assault claims.
Annie Clark, a UNC graduate who says she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2007, applauded the survey. She is one of several sex assault victims who filed a federal complaint about the university last year.
"It very much is a difficult subject, but I'm glad the Senate and the White House are paying attention now," Clark said.
Advocates for sexual assault victims say the report should be a wake up call.
"I'm hoping that every campus that we've reached out to that said, 'Oh we don't have that problem,' is now scratching their heads saying, 'Oh, wait,'" Monika Johnson-Hostler with the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault said.
In Congress, McCaskill is part of a group of senators exploring ways to address the issue legislatively. She said the survey was needed so they had a better grasp of how campuses handle such cases.
McCaskill said the senators are looking at ways to empower victims, simplify laws and rules colleges and universities follow and find ways that campuses and local authorities can better coordinate. She chairs a subcommittee with jurisdiction over Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at institutions receiving federal funds.
Ada Meloy, general counsel of the American Council on Education, which represents college presidents, said if victims want to maintain confidentiality, it is "extremely difficult to conduct an investigation." She said many college officials want to work more with local authorities, but local authorities are hesitant to take such cases because they are difficult to successfully prosecute.
Meloy said her organization is disappointed by the report and says it fails to describe how hard colleges and universities are working to address the problem under a complex and confusing set of federal guidelines and laws.
About 40 percent of schools said they have sworn law enforcement officers on campus, while many others have private security and about half rely on local authorities. Thirty percent said campus police and security guards aren't required by law or institutional policy to be trained to respond to reports of sexual violence.
Only about a quarter of the schools said they have written protocols between campus and local authorities for handling such cases.
Most schools said they use a "team" response to reports of sexual assault, but only about a quarter incorporate the local prosecutor's office on the team.
Among the other findings:
More than 20 percent of respondents provide no sexual assault training for all faculty and staff.
More than 30 percent of schools do not provide sexual assault training for students.
About half of the participating colleges and universities do not provide a hotline for sexual assault victims.
About 16 percent of respondents conduct "climate surveys" to gauge the number of such cases that are going unreported.
About 10 percent said they don't have a Title IX coordinator.
"Many institutions continually violate the law and fail to follow best practices in how they handle sexual violence," McCaskill said.
The findings come from a survey of 440 four-year colleges and universities of different sizes with 236 colleges and universities responding.
Associated Press Education Writer Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report.
Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms.More>>