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UW-Whitewater among 55 schools facing US federal sex assault probe

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Gazette staff and Associated Press
May 1, 2014

WHITEWATER--UW-Whitewater is among 55 colleges and universities — big and small, public and private — being investigated over their handling of sexual abuse complaints under Title IX, the Education Department revealed Thursday.

The Education Department's decision to release the list is unprecedented and comes as the Obama administration seeks to shed greater transparency on the issue of sexual assault in higher education and how it is being handled.

UW-Whitewater is the only Wisconsin school on the list.

Sara Kuhl, UW-Whitewater director of university marketing and media relations, issued the following statement Thursday:

"A complaint was filed against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. That complaint is currently under investigation and because of that ongoing investigation, we cannot comment further.

Kuhl went on in the statement to say the university is "concerned about the safety and well being of all its students, faculty and staff, and takes reports of sexual violence and harassment seriously," and that "all reports of sexual or gender-based misconduct are investigated in a timely and effective manner."

In an interview later Thursday, Kuhl said pending an investigation, she was "uncomfortable" giving any details about the complaint filed against the university which landed it on the federal list of universities being probed, including whether it was a student or other entity that filed the complaint.

She said the university learned of the complaint Feb. 14 but could not say when it was filed with the federal government.

Kuhl said campus complaints or reports of sexual assaults involving students are generally kept on file at the university police department and at the university dean's office and the Whitewater Police Department after they're initially registered with lower-level staff such as dormitory supervisors or faculty.

The university, under federal law, must publish an annual report of campus safety, including fire reports and reports and arrests for certain criminal activities, including drug and alcohol violations.

It includes resources for Title IX policy, and information on how to handle reporting sex assaults.

The latest report, from 2012, shows the university had eight reported "forcible sex offense complaints." The university had five such complaints reported in 2011 and five in 2010. All occurred at university dormitories, according to the report.

The report, however, does not show records on arrests for sexual assaults.

The U.S. Education department says it will keep an updated list of schools facing sexual assault probes, and make it available upon request.

The schools on the new list range from big public universities like Ohio State University, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Arizona State University to private schools like Knox College in Illinois, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Catholic University of America in the District of Columbia. Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list.

The agency previously would confirm such an investigation when asked, but students and others were often unaware of them.

“We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.

Lhamon said a school's appearance on the list does not mean that it has violated the law but that an investigation is ongoing.

Some investigations were prompted by complaints directly to the department; others were initiated by the department following compliance reviews triggered by other factors, such as news stories. That was the case at Dartmouth, where investigators visited the Hanover, New Hampshire, campus in late January to speak with students, faculty and alumni.

“We are hopeful at the end of this there will be a resolution that will strengthen our internal processes and result in a safer community,” Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said Thursday. “There's always something we can learn and ways to get better.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said there had been “lots of internal debate” about whether to release the list but that he believes in transparency; he said the more the country is talking about the problem of sexual assault, the better. Duncan said there is “absolutely zero presumption” of guilt in his mind for schools being investigated.

“No one probably loves to have their name on that list,” Duncan said during a White House media briefing. “But we'll investigate; we'll go where the facts are. And where they have done everything perfectly, we'll be very loud and clear that they've done everything perfectly.”

Duncan said while being on the list might feel difficult for schools, it pales in comparison to the difficulty and trauma borne by sexual assault victims on American college campuses.

“In terms of what's morally right there, the moral compass, whatever we can do to have fewer young women and young men having to go through these types of horrific incidents, we want to do that,” Duncan said.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions' handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.

Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, a higher education group, said most of the schools were probably aware there was such an investigation. “I think that every college and university in the current environment is concerned about the need to be very attentive to what they are doing with regard to policies and procedures” related to sexual assault on campuses, Meloy said.

Citing research, the White House has said that 1 in 5 female college students is assaulted. President Barack Obama appointed a task force comprised of his Cabinet members to review the issue after hearing complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape victims and the hidden nature of such crimes.

The task force announced the creation of a website, notalone.gov, offering resources for victims and information about past enforcement actions on campuses. The task force also made a wide range of recommendations to schools, such as identifying confidential victims' advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on campuses.

The department publicized guidance on Title IX's sexual assault provisions in 2011, and complaints by students have since increased. Complaints, however, don't always lead to an investigation.

The department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn't comply with the law, but it so far has not used that power and instead has negotiated voluntary resolutions for violators.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said non-compliance under the law is “far too common.” They say a lack of federal resources is partly to blame for that, and they've sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations.

Another law that campus sexual assault cases fall under is the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics on or near their campuses. It also requires schools to develop prevention policies and ensure victims their basic rights. Investigations under this law are not included in the list that was released.

SCHOOLS LISTED

The 55 schools listed alphabetically by state are:

AZ: Arizona State University

CA: Butte-Glen Community College District

CA: Occidental College

CA: University of California-Berkeley

CA: University of Southern California

CO: Regis University

CO: University of Colorado At Boulder

CO: University of Colorado At Denver

CO: University of Denver

CT: University of Connecticut

DC: Catholic University of America

FL: Florida State University

GA: Emory University

HI: University of Hawaii At Manoa

ID: University of Idaho

IL: Knox College

IL: University of Chicago

IN: Indiana University-Bloomington

IN: Vincennes University

MA: Amherst College

MA: Boston University

MA: Emerson College

MA: Harvard College

MA: Harvard University - Law School

MA: University of Massachusetts-Amherst

MD: Frostburg State University

MI: Michigan State University

MI: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

NC: Guilford College

NC: University of North Carolina At Chapel Hill

ND: Minot State University

NH: Dartmouth College

NJ: Princeton University

NY: Cuny Hunter College

NY: Hobart And William Smith Colleges

NY: Sarah Lawrence College

NY: Suny At Binghamton

OH: Denison University

OH: Ohio State University

OH: Wittenberg University

OK: Oklahoma State University

PA: Carnegie Mellon University

PA: Franklin And Marshall College

PA: Pennsylvania State University

PA: Swarthmore College

PA: Temple University

TN: Vanderbilt University

TX: Southern Methodist University

TX: The University of Texas-Pan American

VA: College of William And Mary

VA: University of Virginia

WA: Washington State University

WI: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

WV: Bethany College

WV: West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine



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