Protest at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (photo: Christine Baker, The Patriot-News)
Four California colleges and universities are among 55 being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for violations of laws governing the handling of on-campus sexual assault and harassment.
The list of schools includes Occidental College, the Butte-Glen Community College District, University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley. It also includes elite schools from across the country, including Harvard College, Dartmouth College, Princeton University and the University of Chicago.
The unprecedented release of the list is in response to a growing awareness locally and nationally that campus sexual assaults are a significant problem that is not being addressed. It's also in response to a demand by 39 members of Congress, who sent a letter to the department in January asking that the list of schools be made public.
But education officials emphasized that the schools have not been accused of violating any laws, yet.
Although social media has raised the level of awareness about campus assaults, it has been a serious problem for a long time. Authors of a report (pdf) from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000 said that “over the course of a college career—which now lasts an average of 5 years—the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter.”
Occidental College in Los Angeles has received intense media scrutiny lately for belatedly admitting lapses in handling dozens of student abuse complaints. In February, 31 current and former students at UC Berkeley filed complaints against the university, claiming decades of bad behavior by administrators in handling abuse allegations.
A 1972 federal law, which includes Title IX, forbids gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds and requires them to address issues of sexual violence and harassment. The Clery Act requires colleges to track and disclose crimes committed on campus. Alleged Clery violations are not part of the list released.
President Barack Obama appointed a task force to study the issue earlier this year and a website, “Not Alone,” was set up to inform students of their rights and facilitate the use of available resources.
Although Title IX allows the federal government to withhold funds from schools that don't comply with its sexual abuse provisions, the Associated Press reported that they have never been invoked. Instead, the government has relied on negotiated settlements to resolve problems. Critics say that noncompliance is all too common.
A book from former President Jimmy Carter that hit the stands in March, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power,” accuses school administrators of purposely ignoring the problem. He told the Huffington Post, “They don't want to bring discredit or criticism to the universities to have an increase in reported abuses. What develops on college campuses is serial rapists who know that on a college campus they can get away with it, and they do.”
Carter said, “Sexual abuse, sexual assaults take place more on university campuses than anywhere else in America.”