Sexual Assault on College Campuses Often Goes Unpunished, Study Finds

Many college students who are sexually assaulted by their peers are finding themselves dissatisfied with the way their schools are handling the issue.

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and National Public Radio found that the attackers are most often given a slap on the wrist, if any punishment at all. As a result, victims might end up feeling abused twice, once by the attacker and a second time by the system.

You should understand the scope of this project, which is based on "50 experts familiar with the campus disciplinary process, as well as 33 female students who have reported being sexually assaulted by other students. The inquiry included a review of records in select cases; a survey of 152 crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses; and an examination of 10 years of complaints filed against institutions with the U.S. Education Department under Title IX and the Clery Act."

The Center said:

"The probe reveals that students deemed 'responsible' for alleged sexual assaults on college campuses can face little or no consequence for their acts. Yet their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down. For them, the trauma of assault can be compounded by a lack of institutional support, and even disciplinary action. Many times, victims drop out of school, while their alleged attackers graduate. Administrators believe the sanctions commonly issued in the college judicial system provide a thoughtful and effective way to hold culpable students accountable, but victims and advocates say the punishment rarely fits the crime.

"Additional data suggests that, on many campuses, abusive students face little more than slaps on the wrist. The Center has examined what is apparently the only database on sexual assault proceedings at institutions of higher education nationwide. Maintained by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, it includes information on about 130 colleges and universities receiving federal funds to combat sexual violence from 2003-2008, the most recent year available. Though limited in scope, the database offers a window into sanctioning by school administrations. It shows that colleges seldom expel men who are found 'responsible' for sexual assault; indeed, these schools permanently kicked out only 10 to 25 percent of such students.

"Just more than half the 33 students interviewed by the Center said their alleged assailants were found responsible for sexual assault in school-run proceedings. But only four of those student victims said the findings led to expulsion of their alleged attackers -- two of them after repeat sexual offenses. The rest of those victims said discipline amounted to lesser sanctions, ranging from suspension for a year to social probation and academic penalties, leaving them feeling doubly assaulted."

You can read NPR's coverage of the story here.

Here are some questions to consider when localizing this story:

  • What is the judicial process at your local schools?
  • How does that judicial process differ from the courts?
  • What have been the outcomes when cases do come before the school decision-making boards? Do schools expel students? Who is most likely to be expelled? Who is never expelled?
  • Profile picture for user atompkins

    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


Related News

Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon