Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sexual Assaulters Face Modest Penalties, While Victims Traumatized; Education Dept Watchdog Rarely Sanctions Schools


CONTACT: Steve Carpinelli  (202) 481-1225
Students 'Responsible' For Sexual Assaults Face Modest Penalties, While Victims Are Traumatized; Education Department Watchdog Rarely Sanctions Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 24, 2010 —Students found "responsible" for sexual assaults on campus often face little or no punishment from school judicial systems, while their victims' lives are frequently turned upside down, according to a year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, Sexual Assault on Campus . Administrators believe the sanctions administered by the college judicial system are a thoughtful way to hold abusive students accountable, but the Center's investigation has discovered that "responsible" findings rarely lead to tough punishments like expulsion — even in cases involving alleged repeat offenders.

According to a new series of stories in the Center's investigation, research shows that repeat offenders actually account for a significant number of sexual assaults on campus, contrary to the beliefs of those who adjudicate these cases. Experts say authorities are often slow to realize they have such "undetected rapists" in their midst.

Critics question whether faculty, staff, and students should even adjudicate what amounts to a felony crime. But these internal campus proceedings grow from two federal laws, known as Title IX and the Clery Act, which require schools to respond to claims of sexual assault on campus and to offer key rights to victims. The Education Department enforces both laws, yet its Office for Civil Rights rarely investigates student allegations of botched school proceedings. When cases do go forward, the civil rights office rarely rules against schools, the Center's probe has found, and virtually never issues sanctions against institutions.

"The full extent of campus sexual assault is often hidden by secret proceedings, shoddy record-keeping, and an indifferent bureaucracy," said Center for Public Integrity Executive Director Bill Buzenberg. "Yet these are serious crimes that go largely unpunished. This is a troubling area of campus life that lacks much needed transparency and accountability."

The Center's package marks a number of significant collaborative efforts, including a series of three stories and a Talk of the Nation call-in program from National Public Radio News. The NPR Series  was produced by a special NPR Investigative Unit with reports airing on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The Center for Public Integrity also collaborated with the Investigative News Network , a coalition of some two dozen news organizations dedicated to watchdog journalism. The Center's pieces will be accompanied by localized campus assault stories from five members of the network — the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism , the New England Center for Investigative Reporting , Texas Watchdog <> , the Rocky Mountain News Network , and Investigate West .

"This impressive package of stories shows both the power and potential of INN and its collaborative efforts," said Brant Houston, chair of the network's steering committee. "Through these shocking stories of campus sexual assaults, INN is demonstrating how it can expose the magnitude of a problem throughout the nation."

The network was formed last summer following a three-day meeting of mostly nonprofit investigative journalism groups in New York. The mission of the network is to facilitate the work and public reach of its member organizations, to foster high-quality, original investigative journalism, and to hold government and corporate power accountable at the local, national, and international levels.

The Center's Sexual Assault on Campus project will include three new stories that will be released over a three-day period beginning February 24.

The Center for Public Integrity  is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent digital news organization specializing in original investigative journalism and research on significant public policy issues. Since 1990, the Washington, D.C.-based Center has released more than 475 investigative reports and 17 books to provide greater transparency and accountability of government and other institutions. It has received the George Polk Award and more than 32 other major journalism awards, including honors from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Online News Association, Overseas Press Club, Society of Environmental Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. 

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