Ed Dep’t Facing Growing Backlog of Sexual Assault Investigations


Sex offenses committed on college campuses reported to the Education Department have almost doubled in the past five years, according to the Associated Press’ Kimberly Hefling. A letter from the Education Department to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) reported that officials believe that the increase is because of federal enforcement efforts and the increasing public attention to the campus sexual assaults.

The letter continued by stating that sex offense cases reported to the department in yearly crime statistics reports had increased from 3,357 cases in 2009 to 6,073 in 2013.  Both law enforcement officials and education leaders say that sex offenses are underreported, so the accurate number is likely much higher.

In order to push colleges and universities into creating solutions to the problem, the Obama administration has begun to release the names of schools which are facing Title IX investigations. (Title IX covers a range of gender equity issues in schools, including sexual violence, sexual harassment, parity in athletics and denial of benefits.) The increase in the number of offenses is probably because campuses are improving their handling and reporting of such crimes. But Laura Palumbo, prevention campaign specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, says there are still inconsistencies in the collection  of evidence and the reporting of the offenses.

Boxer says it is clear that Congress must increase its efforts to eliminate the epidemic of sexual assault on campuses and ensure that it has the resources it needs to protect college and university students nationwide.

There is a backlog of cases that continues to grow at the US Department of Education, along with a drop in the number of staff members in the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“We are standing a bit in front of the fire hose,” Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, told HuffPost.

There were 788 full-time employees in the office in 1995 who received 4,981 discrimination and Title IX complaints. By 2014, the total staff numbered 544, yet the number of complaints had grown to 9,989. Investigations have shot up from 55 in 2014 to 109 currently. At the same time, the length of time involved in finishing these investigations is growing longer.

President Obama, in his proposed 2016 budget, is planning to increase the Office for Civil Rights funding by 31% to $131 million, which will will be used to hire 210 full-time employees. This will lessen the time it is taking to close cases, which in 2014 extended to an average of 1,469 days. The office has used its ability to threaten federal funding if an institution fails to cooperate with the office.

The Daily Progress reports that Boxer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.) received the letter from the Education Department after they had inquired about the length of time taken for the investigations. Specifically, they were referring to a University of Virginia case which had taken place on June 30, 2011 and still had not been completed.

Kaine said. “It’s critical that universities get timely feedback so they can take proactive steps to improve campus sexual violence prevention policies.”