Starting in late 2009, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigative series of pieces on how sexual assault complaints are handled on college campuses. After nine months of reporting, the Center reached some troubling conclusions about how certain institutions collect and report sexual assault statistics, and how sexual assault cases are adjudicated in campus judicial systems. Since then, attention to the issue has only intensified.
This toolkit that accompanied the initial series served as an introductory guide on how to investigate the ways your school deals with sexual assault allegations. A few of the links may be outdated, but the Center attempted to find new ones where possible.
A Few First Steps as You Begin Your Reporting:
- Look for the school’s annual campus security report on the university website or request a print copy from the university.
- The U.S. Department of Education also maintains a database of Clery Act statistics provided by schools: http://ope.ed.gov/security/
- Compare sexual assault numbers provided to the U.S. Department of Education against the numbers published in the school’s annual security report. Sometimes the numbers are different and those differences are red flags for Clery Act violations.
- Collect numbers for sexual assaults from on-campus and off-campus rape crisis centers and/or student counseling centers for the last three years.
- Compare those numbers to Clery Act statistics submitted to the Education Department, as well as those published in the annual campus security report.
- Find out how Clery Act crime data is collected around campus.
- Compare the school’s collection process against what it is required under the Clery Act.
- File a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Education to see if the school has ever been the subject of a Clery Act complaint.
- If there is a complaint, who originated the complaint and why?
- What was the Department’s response to the Clery Act complaint? Findings? Conclusions?
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
- Passed in November, 1974, FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. It applies to all schools receiving federal funds.
- The law grants three basic rights to parents of minor-aged students and students aged 18 and older:
- the right to access educational records;
- to challenge the records’ contents;
- to have control over disclosure of “personally identifiable information” in the records.
- Since Congress never defined what constitutes an education record, some schools have applied FERPA’s provisions to cover pretty much any document that names a student.
- Some college administrators argue that FERPA requires closed disciplinary proceedings in a variety of matters, including allegations of sexual assault. In promulgating regulations, the Education Department has stated that “FERPA does not [per se] prevent an institution from opening disciplinary proceedings to the public,” but confusion remains over how institutions of higher learning should apply FERPA’s provisions.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act)
More info: “The Handbook for Campus Crime Reporting”
- The Clery Act, passed in November 1990, requires that higher education institutions whose students receive federal financial aid collect and report crime data to the U.S. Department of Education.
- A 1992 amendment to the Clery Act established the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, requiring schools to provide certain basic rights to survivors of sexual assaults on campus, including:
- Giving the alleged victim and the alleged assailant equal opportunity to have others present in disciplinary proceedings and equal notification of the outcome of such proceedings;
- Notifying alleged victims of the availability of counseling services, and of their right to pursue remedies through local police;
- Notifying alleged victims that they have the option of changing classes and dormitory assignments in order to avoid their alleged assailants.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX)
- Title IX is a civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs or activities at institutions that receive federal funding.
- Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can also encompass sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.
- If a college or university is aware of but ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs or activities, it may be held liable under the law. A school can be held responsible in court whether the harassment is committed by faculty or staff, or by another student.
- The Education Department’s 2001 guidance mandates that schools take “prompt and effective action to end [serious] harassment and prevent its occurrence.”
- More info: www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/interath.html