Across the nation, 55 state universities, small colleges, and even Ivy League schools are being investigated by the federal government regarding how they manage sexual abuse reports from their student population.
On Thursday, the US Department of Education published a list of the colleges that are under investigation, the first time such a list has been made public.
The list did not include any details concerning the complaints, but according to an article by The Associated Press, President Barack Obama's administration stated that revealing the schools on the list was an effort to bring more openness to sexual violence occurring at US colleges and universities.
The federal government made it clear that these were investigations, not judgments of guilt. The details of these investigations have, for the most part, not been made public before now.
The investigations are a part of the Title IX law which prohibits gender discrimination in schools that are beneficiaries of federal funds. Federal funding can be withheld from schools not complying with Title IX, but so far there have been only "negotiated voluntary resolutions."
This is the same law that ensures female athletes have equal access to sports. Many student victims are saying that Title IX has not protected them where sexual violence is concerned.
"We are hopeful at the end of this there will be a resolution that will strengthen our internal processes and result in a safer community," Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said. "There's always something we can learn and ways to get better."
About half of the 50 states have schools under investigation.
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said there had been "lots of internal debate" about whether to release the list, but that transparency is important.
"No one probably loves to have their name on that list," Duncan said during a White House briefing. "But we'll investigate; we'll go where the facts are. And where they have done everything perfectly, we'll be very loud and clear that they've done everything perfectly."
Harvard students formally complained in late March that the school was not taking reports of sexual violence seriously. They said that in some cases, students were being forced to live in the same dormitories as their alleged assailants.
"Harvard has taken a number of steps to foster prevention efforts and to support students who have experienced sexual misconduct," Harvard University Director of Communications Jeff Neal said, including appointing a Title IX officer to review policies and procedures.
A college can be put under investigation simply on the basis of complaints lodged against it, mostly concerning poor treatment of campus rape victims and/or covering up such allegations. Complaints do not always result in investigations, however.
The Obama administration has created a website, notalone.gov, providing resources for students and schools concerning sexual assault. Members of Congress have said that federal resources are needed to assure that "timely and proper" investigations are in place.
The Clery Act is another law governing sexual assault crimes. It states that universities must report criminal incidents that occur on or near their campuses. Prevention and victims' rights programs are required under this law to be developed by the schools. The Clery Act investigations were not included on the Title IX list.
Robert Shipley, senior vice-president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) asks whether colleges should be holding rape trials. Shipley shared his views on WGBH, Boston Public Radio.
"Serious crimes call for serious procedures and the consistent involvement of law enforcement professionals. Both victims and those accused on campus deserve better than what they're getting now — or what they're likely to get as a result of the White House task force's report," Shipley said.