US: Sexual Assault on University Campuses Widespread, Justice Inadequate

8  December 2009

national study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice finds that one in five college women will be raped or the victim of attempted rape during her four years in school. Despite this, 95% of survivors do not seek redress based in part on confusion on the relationship between the school administration and the police, university procedures that often victimize rape survivors, and challenging university disciplinary procedures.  

Half of students questioned for the report stated that they attempted to press criminal charges through the police only to be told that they should seek legal redress via university proceedings that frequently resulted in limited, or no, academic punishment for the offenders. Some students said that university administrators ordered them to remain silent on the procedures while others were threatened to be punished if they spoke out against the closed-door, unaccountable proceedings.

Informal negotiations between students via a school administrator are often common. In such cases, an administrator meets with the rape survivor and the alleged assailant separately to determine culpability and/or punishment. Sometimes these proceedings are held with both parties in attempt to mediate the conflict. Some women reported that informal procedures adequately delivered justice to their offenders, while others argue that it seemed that school administrators use the negotiations as a means of silencing the case. Both the Justice Department and the Education Department state that mediation procedures should not take place in cases of sexual assault.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act further complicates the ability of survivors to seek justice by forbidding schools from releasing educational, including disciplinary, records of their students. Some university administrators believe that this means that schools cannot divulge case details, while others disagree; regardless, releasing information about charged student sex offenders is rare. Advocates for survivors argue that this serves as a cover-up tool for schools unwilling to admit that crimes take place on campus and take the measures necessary to ensure justice is achieved.

 

Compiled from: Kristen Lombardi, “Sexual Assault on Campus Shrouded in Secrecy: High Rates of Rape, Closed Hearings, and Confusing Laws,” The Center for Public Integrity. (1 December 2009); U.S. Department of Justice, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” (December 2009) (PDF, 47 pages).