WASHINGTON (AP) — A survey of colleges and universities finds a lack of coordination between many campuses and local law enforcement in handling sexual assaults, and that many schools have gone years without investigating such cases.
About 40 percent of colleges and universities reported not having conducted a sexual assault investigation in the past five years, including 6 percent of the nation's largest public institutions. More than 20 percent of large, private schools conducted fewer investigations than the number of incidents reported to the Education Department.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a former prosecutor whose office conducted the survey, said parents and taxpayers should be concerned about the number of investigations.
"On first blush, a parent would think that's good, they don't have a problem with sexual assault on their campus, but it's not good, it's very bad because that means they are either in denial or incompetent," McCaskill said.
Federal law requires every institution that knows about a sexual violence incident to investigate, she noted. She said schools should investigate even if the end result is that the victim isn't participating and there's no corroboration. Under some estimates, 1 in 5 college females is assaulted.
The prevalence of sexual assaults on college campuses took on new focus in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State and after a high-profile battle on Capitol Hill about military sexual assault led college campus assault victims to demand the same attention.
Meanwhile, the Education Department and a White House task force on campus sexual assault have taken a series of steps to draw attention to the treatment of sexual assault victims and force campuses to address the problem.
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.