White House group releases recommendations on fighting campus sexual assault

Landmark Center series focused on vexing problem plaguing colleges and universities

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Editor’s note, May 1st: The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights this morning released a list of higher education institutions that are being investigated over their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. The full list of institutions is at the bottom of this story.  

A federal task force aimed at combating campus sexual violence will today unveil recommendations for helping colleges and universities respond to the problem — the focus of a landmark investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.

At an afternoon ceremony attended by students, victims’ advocates, and school administrators, members of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault will present what they call “first steps” for ending the “epidemic” of sexual violence on college campuses. The interagency group, which includes Education secretary Arne Duncan and attorney general Eric Holder, among other senior administration officials, has been working on recommendations since President Barak Obama created the panel on January 22 of this year.  Over the past three months, the group has held 27 “listening sessions” for students and their advocates, as well as parents, sexual-violence researchers, campus counselors, and administrative officials from more than 50 colleges and universities nationwide.

The initial recommendations aim to tackle what senior administration officials describe as four of the “most pressing” issues to emerge from the sessions: identifying the scope of the problem on college campuses; preventing sexual assaults; helping schools respond more effectively to student allegations; and beefing up the federal government’s own enforcement efforts.

“Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault,” says Vice President Joe Biden, whose office heads the task force, in a statement. “We need to give victims the support they need ...  and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Of today’s recommendations, perhaps the most significant is a tool kit for school administrators to use in conducting surveys on the scope of sexual assault on their campuses. The surveys will initially be voluntary, but administration officials say they hope to make such surveys mandatory for all colleges and universities by 2016. Other key recommendations:

  • The Obama administration is launching a new website to make public federal enforcement data involving campus sexual assault. The site will also give students information to help them file complaints with the Education and Justice departments, among other resources.
  • Justice officials will develop new training programs for campus police officers and school administrators who investigate and adjudicate sexual assault cases; their Education counterparts will prepare similar materials to train campus health center staffers on how to improve services for student victims.
  • Education officials will release a new, 50-page guidance clarifying ongoing questions about the confidentiality rights of student victims, including a model policy for school administrations to follow.
  • The Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will pilot and evaluate prevention strategies and programs for combating campus sexual violence.

The task force will release a report outlining these and other recommendations today, but administration officials stress that its work has only just begun. The group will continue to refine its recommendations, they say, reviewing possible regulatory reforms and seeking new resources to beef up federal enforcement.

“Both the president and vice president believe all students have the right to live free from sexual assault,” one senior administration official told reporters in a press call. “They’re committed to rooting out this problem on our college campuses.”

Charged with developing “a coordinated Federal response to campus rape and sexual assault,” the task force has targeted many of the problems highlighted by the Center’s investigation. Published in a six-part series starting in 2009, “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice” — done in collaboration with National Public Radio — showed that campus judicial proceedings regarding allegations of sexual assault were often confusing, shrouded in secrecy, and marked by lengthy delays. Those who reported sexual assaults encountered a litany of institutional barriers that either assured their silence or left them feeling victimized again. Even students found “responsible” for alleged sexual assaults often faced little punishment, while their victims’ lives frequently turned upside down.

Higher institutions under investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released on May 1 this list of the higher education institutions under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. 

  • AMHERST COLLEGE
  • ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
  • BETHANY COLLEGE
  • BOSTON UNIVERSITY
  • BUTTE-GLEN COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT
  • CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY
  • CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA
  • COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY
  • CUNY HUNTER COLLEGE
  • DARTMOUTH COLLEGE
  • DENISON UNIVERSITY
  • EMERSON COLLEGE
  • EMORY UNIVERSITY
  • FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
  • FRANKLIN AND MARSHALL COLLEGE
  • FROSTBURG STATE UNIVERSITY
  • GUILFORD COLLEGE
  • HARVARD COLLEGE
  • HARVARD UNIVERSITY - LAW SCHOOL
  • HOBART AND WILLIAM SMITH COLLEGES
  • INDIANA UNIVERSITY-BLOOMINGTON
  • KNOX COLLEGE
  • MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
  • MINOT STATE UNIVERSITY
  • OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE
  • OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
  • OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY
  • PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY
  • PRINCETON UNIVERSITY
  • REGIS UNIVERSITY
  • SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE
  • SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY
  • SUNY AT BINGHAMTON
  • SWARTHMORE COLLEGE
  • TEMPLE UNIVERSITY
  • THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS-PAN AMERICAN
  • UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY
  • UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
  • UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
  • UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT DENVER
  • UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
  • UNIVERSITY OF DENVER
  • UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII AT MANOA
  • UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO
  • UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS-AMHERST
  • UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN-ANN ARBOR
  • UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL
  • UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
  • UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
  • UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-WHITEWATER
  • VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY
  • VINCENNES UNIVERSITY
  • WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY
  • WEST VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF OSTEOPATHIC MEDICINE
  • WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY