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Justice Often Elusive for Student Rape Victims

A report from the Center for Public Integrity describes serious problems in the way universities handle cases of sexual assault. Such cases are often handled in secretive campus proceedings, the center's investigation found, with the victims excluded or given strict gag orders.

This is one of the editors' picks from our ongoing roundup of Investigations Elsewhere.

 A nine-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has uncovered widespread flaws in the way colleges respond to and report students’ allegations of sexual assault.

Such accusations are generally handled by campus judiciary processes – which tend to be highly secretive, reports CPI. Victims are regularly excluded from the proceedings, for instance, or given strict gag orders.

Kathryn Russell, a former student at the University of Virginia who alleged rape by a fellow student, said that the chair of the college sexual assault board impressed upon her that she would face disciplinary charges herself if she spoke to anyone about the verdict of the hearing. (UVA’s vice president for student affairs said that a confidential procedure encourages victims to come forward. The university has also made policy changes since Russell’s case, prompted by a Department of Education ruling against it.)

According to CPI, many victims don’t make it as far as a hearing, however, because they are intimidated by college policies that deter students from reporting rapes in the first place. Meanwhile, the scope of the problem is hard to even measure because cases of sexual assault are often undercounted in universities’ official tallies:

Limitations and loopholes in the federal mandatory campus crime reporting law, known as the Clery Act, are causing systematic problems in accurately documenting the total numbers of campus-related sexual assaults. The most troubling of these loopholes involves broadly applied reporting exemptions for counselors who may be covered by confidentiality protections.

Note: One of the story’s two reporters, Kristin Jones, was an intern at ProPublica last year.

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