College Sexual Assault Worse Than We Thought

by Emma Cueto

There's been a lot of talk so far this year about sexual assault on college campuses; the Department of Education is investigating dozens of schools for mishandling sexual assault cases on campus, Obama is creating a task force to deal with the problem, and even The Daily Show has been giving the issue plenty of attention. Now a new study reveals that the problem might be even more bleak than we imagined. Among the findings? The fact that over 40 percent of universities in their sample haven't conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years. Yikes!

The study was commissioned by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a former prosecutor who's been outspoken on the issue. McCaskill was particularly struck by the fact that more than one in five schools that responded to a nationwide survey said that they gave their athletics department oversight in regards to sexual assault cases that involve an athlete. Given that such departments have a vested interest in making sure their athletes can keep playing, regardless of what really happened, such a conflict of interest is an obvious and gigantic problem.

Other fun findings from the study include the fact that over 20 percent of schools provide no sexual assault response training for faculty or staff. More than 40 percent allow students to help handle sexual assault cases, a big problem if a student helps resolve a case for someone they might later encounter on campus. And only 16 percent of schools currently conduct the "climate surveys" the White House recommends as a tool for getting a better picture of how common sexual assault really is on campus.

All in all, it's not a particularly rosy picture of what things look like for the women who are sexually assaulted on college campuses — which is, unfortunately, a lot of women. If colleges were to properly handle investigations and/or actually look into reports of sexual assault instead of ignoring them, there might be a clearer message and understanding about what constitutes acceptable behavior and, in turn, lead to fewer assaults. But instead, by not handling cases responsibly — or by just trying to sweep the whole thing under the rug — colleges are sending the message that sexual assault isn't such a big deal.

And that attitude makes all women on campus less safe.

In wake of these findings, it's clear that it's not just extreme fundamentalists, like at Bob Jones University, who told a student Jesus wouldn't want her to report her assault or extreme conservative commentators, who think being assaulted is a privilege, that are a problem in the fight to end sexual assault on campus. It's also the schools who just aren't taking the problem seriously. And even though all the attention might finally be prompting some change, it's clear that schools have a long way to go before their female students can truly feel safe on campus.