04.10.16

Detroit Free Press: Senators: More money needed for federal sex assault investigations

It's been 25 months since the federal Office of Civil Rights notified the University of Michigan it would be looking at how U-M handles complaints of sexual assault on its campus. There's no news about when the investigation might come to an end.

It took the OCR more than a year to investigate how Michigan State University handles sexual assault cases.

The length of time in these two cases isn't a surprise. In 2014, it took an average of 1,469 days for a complaint to be resolved, largely because of a shortage of staff, the OCR said.

A group of mostly Democratic senators – including Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters – is hoping to fix that. They recently sent a letter to the chairman of various Congressional committees that control the budget for the OCR, asking for full funding of the office – $137 million – plus money for 11 additional full-time employees for making sure colleges obey the Clery Act, a federal law on reporting crimes on campus.

"As the father of a daughter in college and another in soon, I know how seriously we have to take this," Peters told the Free Press. "We have to make sure there are the resources to do the work. Two years is simply too long. There is a federal agency that can be helpful and can make sure these investigations are being done by (colleges and universities) quickly and fairly, but they don't receive the funds they need.

"We have to understand we have a problem and we have to fix it."

The letter spells out the impact of the OCR being shorthanded.

"OCR received 165 Title IX complaints regarding campus sexual violence in Fiscal Year 2015, up from 106 the previous fiscal year and just nine complaints in 2009," the letter said. "Due to budget constraints, OCR is currently operating with less than half the staff the office had in 1980, when OCR received roughly a third as many complaints regarding the broad range of federal civil rights laws that OCR enforces. As of March 2, 2016, there were 210 cases under investigation by OCR at 169 post-secondary institutions for alleged violations of Title IX related to sexual violence, which is more than a three-fold increase in cases since May 2014.

"Given the extent of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, as well as the growing number of universities and colleges under investigation by the Department of Education for violations of Title IX related to campus sexual violence, there is a clear need for additional trained staff to enforce the laws currently on the books.

"It is essential that the U.S. Department of Education has the resources needed to ensure compliance with the federal laws that help protect our students from sexual violence."


By:  David Jesse
Source: Detroit Free Press