Missouri Senator Calls for Organization in Campus Assault Cases

A study by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) has found that one in five colleges and universities do not provide sexual assault training for faculty and staff members. Also, 31%, nearly one in three, do not provide sexual assault training for students.  McCaskill and her staff surveyed 450 colleges and universities to access these results.

Chuck Raasch of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that the Democrat from Missouri is planning to introduce bipartisan legislation, later this summer, hoping to improve reporting procedures, investigations, and the prosecution of sexual assaults on college campuses.  One idea involves hiring trained investigators, and arranging for universities in the same cities, or which are connected in other ways, to share these services with one another.  John Banzhof, a public interest law professor at George Washington University says that this would allow schools to:

 “… promptly and impartially investigate all reports of sex crimes involving students, using full-time trained and seasoned professionals such as former special victims detectives, retired sex-crimes prosecutors … rather than university functionaries.”

Last week , the Washington Post revealed crime statistics of colleges it had surveyed, stating that 3,900 forcible sex offenses had been reported in 2012.  This is 50% more than in 2009.

Raasch cautioned that these numbers include allegations which did not result in prosecutions.  Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada) wants more information concerning campus sexual assault given to parents and prospective students and clarification of federal directives so that schools are not bound in red tape.

Historically, institutions of higher education have not done a good job of caring for the alleged victims; properly dealing with the perpetrators; and making sure that the penalty for the perpetrator is fair to both the victim and the assailant.

“These cases are hard cases (but) they are make-able … if the victim has the right kind of interview, the right kind of evidence, and the right kind of investigation is done as close in time as possible to the event,” said McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor. “The more time that passe,s the less likely there will be a successful criminal prosecution, because a lot of this is about corroborating the victim.”

On the other hand, some senators want to avoid federal actions that are burdensome to campuses that are already attempting to follow many federal regulations.

In an article written for USA Today by Mary Beth Marklein and Deidre Shesgreen, they point out that last week, 12 more colleges were added to the list of 55 that are under investigation for possible Title IX violations in connection to sexual assault reports.  McCaskill is alarmed that 41% of the list have conducted no investigations in five years.

“It’s troubling to me that they are reporting more incidents than they actually had investigations,” McCaskill said. “That means that they are reporting some incidents that they clearly have not even bothered to investigate.”

“That is hard to believe, and obviously very problematic,” McCaskill said. These schools, she continued, were either “in denial or incompetent” with regard to sexual assault on campuses.

McCaskill’s report includes these findings:  20% of public institutions and 15% of private institutions allow athletic departments to oversee cases involving student-athletes; only 16% of schools conduct “climate surveys” to assess the prevalence of campus sexual assault; many schools do not make reporting a sexual crime anonymously an easily accessible option; 20% do not offer training to faculty on how to respond to an allegation, 30% do not offer this training to students.

The Daily Beast added in an article by Tim Mak that McCaskill was especially outraged at the findings concerning the authority given to athletic departments, calling it “borderline outrageous”.

“It is hard enough to get a victim to come forward when there is at least a perception that the process is going to be fair,” she said. “On some campuses, the athletic departments are the most important entities that exist.”