About this project

A look at the reporting process behind 'Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice'

Starting in February 2009, the Center for Public Integrity fielded a team of reporters and researchers to lift the curtain on how colleges and universities respond to reports of sexual assault.

Reporters Kristen Lombardi and Kristin Jones began by surveying crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses across the country; 152 of these facilities completed the survey. The Center’s team then interviewed nearly 50 current and former college students who say they were raped or sexually assaulted by other students and, in some cases, professors. The journalists also interviewed students accused of sexual assault, as well as dozens of student affairs administrators, judicial hearing officers, victim advocates, sexual assault scholars, and lawyers.

Three federal laws that govern the way colleges and universities respond to sexual assault complaints became a topic of intense focus: Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Center compiled a database of 10 years’ worth of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education against colleges and universities for allegedly violating Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in federally funded education. The Center culled documents from lawsuits filed against schools for alleged Title IX violations, and built a second database of complaints filed with the Education Department against schools for allegedly violating the Clery Act, which requires that schools provide key rights to victims, and that they collect and retain statistics of crimes occurring on or near their campuses.

FERPA, which protects the privacy of student education records, complicated reporting of these stories. As a practical matter, the law required that the Center obtain disclosure or privacy waivers from students in order to conduct interviews with school administrators about their cases or file successful Freedom of Information Act requests to gain access to documents related to those cases.

About the Survey

The Center for Public Integrity conducted a survey of on-campus and off-campus crisis clinics and programs that service students, faculty, and staff at four-year public universities. The Center took a stratified random sample of those clinics and programs so that universities in all regions of the United States were represented. The Center received responses from August 2008 through April 2009, and conducted follow-up interviews of survey respondents from May 2009 to July 2009. Of the 260 clinics and programs in the sample, 152 completed the survey for a 58 percent response rate. Respondents were asked, among many questions, how many student sexual assault cases they serviced in the past year.

To compare their answers to official numbers, the Center analyzed Education Department university crime data, which campuses are required to report under the Clery Act. The Center acquired its copy of the data from the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

For the analysis, the Center computed a five-year average of sexual assaults for universities whose on-campus and nearby off-campus clinics and programs responded to the survey. The years 2002-2006 were used as these represented the most recent final numbers. Universities can change their initial reports as they learn more about crime on their campuses, meaning the 2007-2008 numbers were still subject to change when the analysis was done. A five-year average was used to smooth out any years with exceptionally high or low incidents. Finally, those averages were compared to the most recent numbers reported by the clinics and programs that service those campuses.

Partners

The Center’s series marks one of the first significant collaborative efforts from the Investigative News Network, a coalition of some two dozen news organizations dedicated to watchdog journalism. Our pieces are accompanied by localized campus assault stories from five members of the network — the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the New England Center for Investigative ReportingTexas Watchdog, the Rocky Mountain News Network, and Investigate West. The network was formed last summer following a three-day meeting of investigative journalism groups in New York.

The Team

Editorial Team

Gordon Witkin, managing editor
David Donald, data editor

Reporting Team

Kristen Lombardi, Kristin Jones, staff writers
Laura Dattaro, Claritza Jimenez, Laura Cheek, reporting fellows

Fact Checking

Peter Newbatt Smith, research editor

Web Team

Cole Goins, web project manager
Andrew Green, web editor
Erik Lincoln, deputy web editor; multimedia
Tuan Le, information technology manager/web developer

Web Design

Top Dead Center Design, website design

Media Team

Jeanne Brooks, outreach coordinator
Steve Carpinelli, media relations manager
Rachel Hamrick, {new} partners

Additional Thanks

Bill Buzenberg
David E. Kaplan
Bridget Gallagher
M.B. Pell
Josh Israel
Caroline Jarboe
Ellen McPeake
Regina Russell
Francesca Craig
Eva Starrak

Funding

Campus Assault is generously supported by grants from the Dart Society, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the NoVo Foundation.

Support for this and other Center for Public Integrity projects is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford FoundationGreenlight Capital LLC Employees, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Park Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and many other generous institutional and individual donors.

Support for editorial collaboration with members of the Investigative News Network is provided by the McCormick Foundation. Additional support for the Investigative News Network is provided by the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Surdna Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, and Buzz Woolley.