Transparency needed in handling sexual assault cases


The recent release of a list of universities across the country under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, a gender equity law meant to protect against sexual harassment, demonstrates just how rampant the issue of sexual assault is on college campuses.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights named 55 universities under investigation for possibly mishandling cases of sexual violence on college campuses, a move meant to offer transparency in federal responses to sexual assault in college. The list was released after the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault announced plans to enhance transparency in the way sexual assault in higher education is addressed.

As co-founder of the advocacy group Know Your IX, Alexandra Brodsky told the Huffington Post the list helps hold institutions and the DOE accountable.

Compared to the previous hassle of getting names of universities under investigation and the relaxed handling of sexual assault cases, initiatives acting as a check for universities and the OCR are overdue and will make progress against an unnerving epidemic on college campuses.

Before the list became available, knowing if a university was under review was only possible by request; otherwise, one would not know an investigation occurred until after it was completed.

Though concealing such information in the past may have allowed some schools to keep hold of their clean reputations, doing so does nothing to protect students.

When a University of Colorado-Boulder student was found guilty last year of sexual assault and only faced a suspension, a $75 code of conduct fee and an essay as punishment, it’s clear universities are treating students’ sexual assault cases inappropriately and accepting the problem rather than actually responding to them.

The same goes for when Emerson College administrators told a student with a sexual assault complaint to not “(make) a big deal with it,” or when Florida State held off an investigation on Jameis Winston after he refused to answer questions about his rape allegations.

The list goes on, but the White House’s task force is the first step in helping prevent occurrences such as these.

One progressive, yet controversial, recommendation of the task force is for universities to conduct “climate surveys,” which would provide an idea of the frequency of sexual assault on a
specific campus.

Like the DOE’s list, such surveys would keep universities from sweeping the issue under the rug.

In addition to other initiatives, the task force also launched, which helps to further familiarize students with their Title IX rights.

From knowing which universities are under investigation to simply having a clear understanding of one’s own rights as a student, these improvements are prioritizing students over the institutions that have continued to mishandle sexual assault cases. These changes are only a start, however, to solving a problem affecting students across the nation.

Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.