Sen. McCaskill sends out ‘unprecedented’ survey about campus rape to colleges


Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) speaks to constituents during a roundtable discussion on the campus of the University of Central Missouri, in Warrensburg, Mo. McCaskill was campaigning on a leg of her “Fighting for Fairness” tour. (Photo/ Julie Denesha For The Washington Post)

As the next step in looking at what to do about the problem of sexual assault on campus, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is sending out an extensive survey to 350 college and university presidents across the country.

McCaskill turned her attention to sexual assault on the nation’s campuses after sponsoring successful legislation in the Senate overhauling the military’s policies in handling sexual assault.

She sees similarities in the two areas, she said in an interview with She the People on Tuesday.

“There’s a closed environment where victims feel more under a microscope than they might were they not in that closed environment like a military base or a college campus,” McCaskill said. “We’re also dealing with young women who, I think, many times second-guess themselves and worry and think they’re responsible or partially responsible for being victimized.”

She’s starting with the issue of campus sexual assault the same way she did with the military, she said, “with a great deal of research.” Last week McCaskill met with representatives of the departments of Justice and Education.

This week her Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight is sending out an 18-page survey to 350 college presidents, a survey that she says is “unprecedented” in its scope. Detailed information is sought from a cross-section of public and private, large and small, colleges and universities.

“The auditor in me understands the value that surveys have, especially if they are comprehensive and especially if they’re forwarded to people under some kind of official capacity, like my subcommittee has,” McCaskill said.

She’s not trying to single out any particular institution but wants “an accurate picture of what processes, systems and services are in place right now.”

One of those problem areas is jurisdiction. Many campuses have their own law enforcement, so who handles the complaint of rape and what is the communication with the municipal police? And with the prosecutor?

“The key is do women know where to go to report and when they do, are they getting the services they need?” McCaskill asked.

Then there’s “the pressure administrators feel to not show all their dirty laundry,” McCaskill said. “Sometimes that comes as inappropriate protection of athletes and sometimes it comes just because they don’t want anyone to think that their college campus is not perfectly safe.”

“It’s time everyone does a gut-check and realizes hiding these statistics is not going to make this problem any better,” she said. “If we don’t know how big this problem is, we can never hope to solve it.”

As many as 19 percent of college women, with freshman at the highest risk, may have been victims of sexual assault.

After collecting the data, McCaskill says the next step will be roundtable discussions with victims and rape survivors’ groups and with prosecutors, campus police, university administrators and Title IX officers.

She’s not sure what type of legislation or mandates may be needed in addition to Title IX and the Clery Act, which cover sexual assault, and what kind of enforcement and punishment.

“The ultimate penalty is removal of all student aid and federal aid,” she said. “But that punishes innocent students.” Instead, removal of the ability to compete in athletics or imposing monetary fines might be more “realistic.”

Survey results are due in her office by May 7. She suspects she’ll find “a patchwork of processes and systems,” with services that students are unaware of, and “dysfunction” between campus and city police departments and prosecutors, and a “reluctance to empower victims.”

Attitudes toward what constitutes rape is part of the problem as well, and has been for “decades and decades,” McCaskill said.

“It’s just as criminal to rape someone at the point of a gun as it is someone passed out and unconscious,” McCaskill said. “It is the same crime. It is no different.”

To read a copy of the survey, click here.

 

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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