Small Gains, But Much Left To Fix, In Campus Sexual Assault Cases
In 2010, NPR's Joe Shapiro led an investigation into sexual assault on college campuses. As the White House releases its own report on the subject, Shapiro explains what's changed since 2010 — and what hasn't.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Back in 2010, NPR's Joe Shapiro led an investigation into sexual assault on college campuses. And he joins us now to talk about that research and what has changed since. Hi, Joe.
JOE SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: And remind us what your investigation found.
SHAPIRO: Well, this was a series that NPR's Investigative Unit did along with reporters at the Center for Public Integrity. We show how sexual assault on college campuses is a vastly under-reported crime, and we tried to look at why. There are federal laws created to hold colleges and universities accountable. But we found that schools almost never expelled men, even when the school found that a man was responsible for sexual assault. We found only in 10 to 25 percent of cases was he expelled. And often he was allowed to stay on campus or he was suspended for a semester. So, that meant a survivor might walk into science class and she ends up sitting next to the man who assaulted her. And it turned out it was more often the woman, not the man, who dropped out of school.
SIEGEL: So, it sounds like victims didn't have many options, you say.
SHAPIRO: They didn't. And they couldn't count on the government's oversight agency at the Department of Education for help. We found the department has the power to fine schools that fail to report crimes on campus. But we found it had used that power just six times in 20 years.
SIEGEL: So, have there been changes since your investigation in 2010? Have schools and the administration been more aggressive in going after this issue?
SHAPIRO: Yes, absolutely. The Department of Education and the Justice Department have opened investigations. In April of 2011, the Department of Education sent new guidance to schools, new rules that it expected schools to follow when it investigated a sexual assault. So, these included telling schools that they needed to investigate complaints in a timely manner and that the person who brought a complaint had to be told the results. Sometimes schools didn't even tell the victim, thinking the school needed to protect the privacy of the accused student. So, the person who brought the complaint never knew what happened. And schools were told in these new guidelines that if a woman brought a complaint, she couldn't be disciplined for using alcohol. Then another key moment came last year when Congress passed a bill, signed into law, that made some of these changes permanent. The Campus SaVE Act required that victims be told all their rights, where to go for counseling. It set up procedures to protect the rights of both the accused and the accuser.
SIEGEL: Now, we heard the White House cite a figure that one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. That's a big number. Where does that number come from?
SHAPIRO: You know, researchers struggle to get an exact number. The White House cited a study that was done for the research arm of the Justice Department. They did it over the Web, they talked to students at two large public universities. And they found that about 19 percent said they'd been victims of a sexual assault while they were on campus. Now, this study had a strength in that it looked at alcohol and drug-facilitated assaults. That's a forcible assault or a coerced one, unwanted sex after a woman's been drinking. Eighty percent of the women in this study said they'd been drunk at the time. Over 25 percent said they'd been assaulted at a fraternity. But, look, we know this is a vastly under-reported crime, partly because it's complicated. Victims often know the person who assaulted them. And if the woman has been drinking and can't give consent, that's still an assault. But sometimes women don't know to call it that or they're reluctant to call it that.
SIEGEL: Joe, explain this. We're talking about sexual assault. It's a crime, and we're talking about how universities respond to this. Why aren't we talking about the way that police, the way that prosecutors respond to it instead, the way they'd respond to sexual assault that's not on campus?
SHAPIRO: Robert, sometimes a woman will go to police and prosecutors at the same time that she's pursuing an action on the college campus. That is her choice. But often, the person who's been assaulted, they want an answer on campus. They want to be able to stay on campus. Also, when we're talking about a campus disciplinary procedure, the standard of evidence is lower. There's a lower standard for finding the person who's been accused, whether or not they're responsible. So, it may be easier to get a solution, a conclusion, if you go through the campus disciplinary procedure.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Joe Shapiro. Joe, thanks.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.