Even as 1 in 5 female students is assaulted, the White House said in announcing the task force, it said the review was also about protecting male victims and engaging men in discussions about preventing such assaults.
Within higher education, many campuses have been working to make improvements, but the issue is complex and some college administrators have sought answers from the federal government about how to interpret federal law. Research has shown that most campus sexual assault victims know their attackers, alcohol or drugs are often involved and only 12 percent of college women attacked report it to police.
A key tool the government has against campus sexual assault is Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. The 1972 law is better known for guaranteeing girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions’ handling of sexual violence and is increasingly being used by victims who say their school failed to protect them. Fifty-one campuses currently have such an ongoing investigation involving sexual violence, the Education Department said.
Title IX requires that schools proactively prevent sexual crimes, promptly investigate complaints and discipline the accused if it’s more likely than not that violence occurred. The school can’t retaliate against students who file complaints and must ensure that a victim can continue their education free of ongoing harassment.
Complaints have ticked up in the past couple years, after the Education Department publicized guidance on Title IX’s sexual assault provisions in 2011. The department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn’t comply, but so far has not used that power and instead negotiated voluntary resolutions when they find violations. The task force said on Tuesday the department would issue more information related to the 2011 directive that answers frequently asked questions.
Another law that campus sexual assault cases fall under is the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to annually report crime statistics on or near their campuses, to develop prevention policies and ensure victims their basic rights.