US & Canada

Colleges 'loath to pursue sex assault claims'

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Media captionJulia Dixon has filed a complaint against her university for the way it handled her sexual assault case.

About 40% of US universities surveyed have not conducted a sexual assault investigation in the past five years, a US senator has said.

The figure comes from results of a survey of 440 universities published by Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, a former prosecutor, on Wednesday.

Ms McCaskill said the finding should concern parents, saying universities were "either in denial or incompetent".

The US estimates one in five women are sexually assaulted while in university.

In January, the White House launched a task force to tackle the issue.

Ms McCaskill said federal law requires institutions to look into sexual violence claims.

But she said many failed to do so - especially among universities with fewer than 1,000 students, 70% of which had not pursued investigations in five years.

Image copyright AP
Image caption McCaskill has pushed for more action in responding to sexual assaults at universities and in the military
Image caption Harvard student adorned their graduation caps with red tape in protest of the university's sexual assault policies

Ada Meloy, general counsel of the American Council on Education which represents college presidents, said universities were working to address the problem in difficult circumstances.

Ms Meloy told the Associated Press news agency many colleges wanted to work with local authorities, but law enforcement is hesitant to do so given the difficulties of prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases.

But Ms McCaskill said universities were not handling sexually assault appropriately.

She told the Washington Post 22% of universities gave their athletic departments oversight over sexual violence involving student athletes, leading to an apparent conflict of interest.

Other findings from the survey:

  • More than two-thirds in a nationwide sample did not have any protocols in place on how to work with local law enforcement teams
  • 21% of universities do not provide sexual assault training for faculty and staff.
  • 31% of schools do not provide similar training for students.
  • About 16% of respondents conduct "climate surveys" to gauge the number of sexual assault cases going unreported.

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