“A Culture of Indifference”: Report on Campus Sexual Assault Reveals Inaction Taken by Schools, Education Department

In December, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) released a report not only about the fact that 95% of college campus rapes go unreported, but that survivors who do report often get no justice. Today, they have followed up with solid results from a year-long study, revealing that school judicial systems sanction little to no punishment for students responsible for sexual assault, often leading to repeat offenders. Via The Center:

The Center interviewed 50 experts familiar with the campus disciplinary process, as well as 33 female students who have reported being sexually assaulted by other students. The inquiry included a review of records in select cases; a survey of 152 crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses; and an examination of 10 years of complaints filed against institutions with the U.S. Education Department under Title IX and the Clery Act. The probe reveals that students deemed “responsible” for alleged sexual assaults on college campuses can face little or no consequence for their acts. Yet their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down. For them, the trauma of assault can be compounded by a lack of institutional support, and even disciplinary action. Many times, victims drop out of school, while their alleged attackers graduate. Administrators believe the sanctions commonly issued in the college judicial system provide a thoughtful and effective way to hold culpable students accountable, but victims and advocates say the punishment rarely fits the crime.
Additional data suggests that, on many campuses, abusive students face little more than slaps on the wrist. The Center has examined what is apparently the only database on sexual assault proceedings at institutions of higher education nationwide. Maintained by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, it includes information on about 130 colleges and universities receiving federal funds to combat sexual violence from 2003-2008, the most recent year available. Though limited in scope, the database offers a window into sanctioning by school administrations. It shows that colleges seldom expel men who are found “responsible” for sexual assault; indeed, these schools permanently kicked out only 10 to 25 percent of such students.

That means 75 to 90 percent of total disciplinary actions that schools do report are minor, some so minimal it’s astounding — such as making them send a letter of apology to their victim or write a research report on sexual violence. That’s right, their punishment for sexual assault is to write a research paper. Other small sanctions are suspensions, social probation or counseling, despite the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women’s recommendations to its college grant recipients to train their judicial panels to give “appropriate sanctions, such as expulsion.” One example is to the right, where survivor Margaux J. of Indiana University describes her experience with the campus judicial panel she participated in. (More on her case here.)
And the Education Department, which is responsible for enforcing both the Clery Act and Title IX, rarely investigates complaints of botched school proceedings. When cases do go forward by their Office of Civil Rights, there are rarely any sanctions made against institutions. “The full extent of campus sexual assault is often hidden by secret proceedings, shoddy record-keeping, and an indifferent bureaucracy,” says Center for Public Integrity Executive Director Bill Buzenberg. “Yet these are serious crimes that go largely unpunished. This is a troubling area of campus life that lacks much needed transparency and accountability.”
In the meantime, we have college newspapers printing pieces that blame rape victims and women’s magazines spreading the myth of “gray rape.” If we can’t rely on schools to hold students who commit sexual assault accountable, and we can’t rely on our Education Department to hold those schools accountable for their inaction, where does that leave us? This is more than troubling; this is a crisis that’s occurring on campuses across the country, and survivors deserve better.
Read all of their findings here.

Join the Conversation