sunny.png
Sunday April 21st, 2019 8:16PM

At some big colleges, sexual assaults most likely off-campus

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — At some of the nation's largest universities, the vast majority of sexual assaults take place not in dorm rooms or anywhere else on school property but in the neighborhoods beyond campus boundaries, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

But the schools' obligation to investigate and respond to those off-campus attacks could be dramatically reduced by the Education Department's proposed overhaul of campus sexual assault rules. And that's alarmed advocacy groups and school officials who say it would strip students of important protections in the areas where most of them live. 

At the University of Texas in Austin, officials have received 58 reports of sexual assaults on campus grounds since the fall of 2014 while fielding 237 involving private apartments, houses and other areas outside campus, according to the data obtained through public records requests. Another 160 reports didn't include locations.

"The majority of our students are just not in proximity to campus, and a lot of things happen when they're not on campus," said Krista Anderson, the university's Title IX coordinator. Of the school's 51,000 students, she said, only about 18 percent live in campus housing.

For now, federal guidelines urge colleges to take action against any sexual misconduct that disrupts a student's education, regardless of where it took place.

But in its proposed rule, the department says schools should be required to address sexual misconduct only if it occurs within their "programs or activities," a designation that would exclude many cases off campus.

The proposal is included in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' revision of Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, which officials say is unfairly skewed against those accused of assault and goes beyond the intended scope of Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination in education. Some colleges had complained that the Obama rules were too complex and could be overly burdensome.

The AP asked the nation's 10 largest public universities for several years of data on the topic. Out of eight that provided data, five had more reports from off campus than on school property: The University of Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Michigan State and the University of Central Florida.

At Texas A&M, for example, the number of sexual assaults reported from beyond campus since 2014 is twice the number on school property.

Leaders of some schools say the proposal appears to let them decide whether to handle cases beyond their borders, but conflicting language has led some to believe they would actually be barred from it.

One section says schools would be permitted to address cases outside their property, while another says schools would have to dismiss all complaints from outside their programs. Dozens of schools have asked the department for clarification.

"There is a concern that these regulations might strictly limit the jurisdiction of the university to conduct which occurs on campus," said David Bunis, general counsel for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a private school in Massachusetts.

Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said schools would be able to investigate cases outside their programs "at their discretion" but did not clarify the discrepancy. Unless the conflicting language is changed, legal experts say, it could give accused students legal grounds to get their cases dismissed.

Since the proposal was issued in November, it has generated a flood of feedback from students, parents, schools, politicians and activists on both sides.

A recent public comment period drew more than 104,000 responses, the most in department history. Tens of thousands have been credited to campaigns meant to inundate the agency with criticism. In western Pennsylvania, for example, a local chapter of the National Organization for Women recently hosted an event on how to submit comments, one of many similar gatherings across the country.

Opponents are fighting against several of the plan's key provisions, including changes that would narrow the definition of sexual harassment and allow students accused of sexual misconduct to question their accusers through a representative.

Few points, however, have drawn as much anger as the move to reduce schools' obligations off campus. In public comments, students said it would leave little recourse for those assaulted at parties, bars or other sites. Advocacy groups worry that fewer victims would report assaults, and that more would drop out of school.

"We think it's very dangerous," said Terri Poore, policy director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "There are several other very, very, disturbing issues, but this is absolutely among the worst aspects of the proposed rule."

Many colleges have raised their own concerns, especially institutions that fear the rule would cut off their authority at campus boundaries.

Laurie Nichols, president of the University of Wyoming, told the Education Department that curbing schools' powers would simply push sexual violence to areas where offenders know they're beyond the school's reach.

In her comment, Nichols added that refusing to take action off campus "communicates indifference on the part of the institution and ignores the impact of these experiences on a student's ability to succeed in the classroom."

Still, few colleges are asking the department to keep things just as they are. Instead, many want the flexibility to decide which cases to handle, even though they say they have no plans to scale back investigations.

Loyola University in Chicago is among those asking for the discretion to choose. Officials wrote that, regardless of where sexual misconduct takes place, "the lasting impact of such misconduct is likely to affect our students' education and sense of safety."

Further questions have emerged about the handling of online sexual harassment, which isn't explicitly addressed in the proposal. It's a major concern for many schools below the college level, which are bound by the same federal rules and have faced growing problems with cyberbullying.

The School Superintendents Association, which represents more than 13,000 education leaders, told the department it was "shocked" that the proposal seems to prevent schools from responding to online sexual misconduct.

"While monitoring and taking steps to address these activities can be burdensome, district policies have been built around doing so," the group wrote. "This would unduly tie the hands of school leaders who believe every child deserves a safe and healthy learning environment."

Even supporters of the rule say it needs clarification, but they contend it's a step in the right direction. Some argue that police are better equipped than schools to handle cases away from campus property, although advocates who work with victims counter that only a fraction of assaults are ever reported to police.

Cynthia Garrett, leader of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, a group that represents students accused of sexual misconduct, said existing rules have led some colleges to investigate sexual misconduct hundreds of miles away. She added that schools should handle some off campus cases, but only within reason.

"I just think it has to be a practical consideration. Is this something where the school has any power over the property? Can they go there? Can they look at the evidence?" she said. "It's very difficult to set a bright-line rule, which is unfortunate because it would certainly help matters."

The Education Department is now reviewing the public comments before it issues a final rule, a process expected to take several months.

Federal officials estimate that, if the rule is finalized, the number of off-campus cases schools investigate would fall by somewhere between 11 percent and 30 percent. As a result, the agency predicts, schools would collectively save up to $456 million over a decade.

Officials based their analysis on the assumption that about 40 percent of sexual assaults involving students take place off-campus, a statistic that comes from an insurance company's study of 305 sexual assault claims filed between 2011 and 2013. Some other surveys have put the figure above 60 percent.

Colleges say it's difficult to track exactly how many offenses take place off-campus. Many assaults are never reported. Sometimes the information is channeled through friends or professors who don't know where it happened.

At the University of Florida it was roughly an even split between off-campus and on-campus sexual assault complaints, according to the data obtained by the AP. Ohio State University had more cases on campus. The University of Maryland University College, which does not have residence halls and offers the majority of its classes online, says no sexual assaults have been reported in the past five years.

At the University of Central Florida, officials say they're awaiting the department's final rule but have not stopped investigating off-campus sexual misconduct complaints involving students or employees.

"It is the university's mission to provide a safe environment for all students and employees. Accordingly, we have no plans to change this practice, but we'll reassess if mandated to do so when the new regulations are issued by the federal government," Nancy Myers, director of the school's Office of Institutional Equity, said in a statement.

Anderson, the University of Texas official, said the school has no plans to narrow the scope of its work even if the final rule allows it. Although cases that arise off campus can be complicated, she said, the university will continue to investigate them unless it's explicitly forbidden.

"The complex cases are the ones that need our attention," Anderson said. "We have a duty to address those and respond to it appropriately."

___

Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Politician's accuser speaks about issue of sexual assault
College professor Vanessa Tyson avoided talking directly about her accusation that Virginia's lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her, but she wasn't shy about publicly discussing her research and thoughts on the growing number of women reporting abuse
2:28AM ( 1 hour ago )
Police detective killed by friendly fire in New York City
A New York City police detective was shot and killed by friendly fire Tuesday night while responding to a report of a gunpoint robbery at a cellphone store, Commissioner James O'Neill said
1:51AM ( 2 hours ago )
No escape? El Chapo likely off to 'prison of all prisons'
A 2-time escapee from Mexican prisons, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman will likely be sentenced to the ADX Supermax in Florence, Colorado, the most secure prison ever constructed in the United States
1:48AM ( 2 hours ago )
U.S. News
Unhappy with deal, Trump still doesn't expect a new shutdown
Trump says he's not expecting another government shutdown, a signal that he's leaning toward accepting a budget compromise
3:46AM ( 7 minutes ago )
King the wire fox terrier takes Westminster's best in show
A 7-year-old wire fox terrier from Brazil who's won big in Europe is America's top dog, beating out a crowd-pleasing longhaired dachshund and popular Sussex spaniel at Westminster
3:26AM ( 27 minutes ago )
Lawyers leading defense of Nissan ex-chairman Ghosn quits
Lawyers leading defense of Nissan ex-chairman Ghosn quit
2:54AM ( 59 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Venezuela socialist party boss stirs up support on talk show
Juan Guaido's recognition by dozens of countries as Venezuela's rightful president has riled up President Nicolas Maduro's still sizable pro-government base, who take their cues from a weekly TV talk show hosted by a popular socialist party boss
12:03AM ( 3 hours ago )
Virginia politician's accuser on Stanford sex assault panel
College professor Vanessa Tyson avoided talking directly about her accusation that Virginia's lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her, but she wasn't shy about publicly discussing her research and thoughts on the growing number of women reporting abuse
11:38PM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: Police say detective killed by friendly fire
New York City police say a detective was killed by friendly fire while responding to a report of an armed robbery
11:31PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP National News
The Latest: King again! Wire fox terrier wins Westminster
A wire fox terrier called King has become America's top dog
10:57PM ( 4 hours ago )
Australia to reopen island detention camp after refugee bill
Australia to reopen a mothballed island detention camp in anticipation of new migrant smuggling attempts after Parliament bill gives sick asylum seekers easier access to mainland hospitals
10:47PM ( 5 hours ago )
Official: Police detective fatally shot in New York City
New York City police say two officers have been shot during an apparent armed robbery
10:39PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Online National News
California governor scales back high-speed train
California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office says he is fully committed to building a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco
9:15PM ( 6 hours ago )
APNewsBreak: Teach for America slammed over Oakland strike
Teach for America alumni are urging the nonprofit to stop pressuring young teachers to cross the picket line during a potential teachers strike in Oakland, California
8:51PM ( 7 hours ago )
Ex-prosecutor, brother hit with drug charges in Hawaii
A federal grand jury has indicted a former Honolulu prosecutor and her brother on drug distribution charges
8:44PM ( 7 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
The Latest: Wire fox terrier wins Westminster terrier group
A wire fox terrier named King has won the terrier group at Westminster, and now the finalists are set for the best in show ring at Madison Square Garden.
10:13PM ( 5 hours ago )
The Latest: Schipperke ineligible for Westminster prize
There's dog drama at the Westminster Kennel Club
7:46PM ( 8 hours ago )
Notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman convicted
Notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has been convicted of drug trafficking in a U.S. trial that could keep him in prison for life.
7:00PM ( 8 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
McConnell wields Green New Deal as bludgeon against Dems
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate will vote on the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan by Democrats to combat climate change
9:26PM ( 6 hours ago )
Klobuchar raises $1M within 48 hours of launching 2020 bid
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's campaign says the Democrat raised more than $1 million in the 48 hours after launching her presidential bid
9:11PM ( 6 hours ago )
Trump says he wasn't aware of tabloid's Bezos investigation
President Donald Trump says he was unaware the owner of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., had been investigating Amazon's Jeff Bezos
7:55PM ( 7 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
3 siblings bond through March For Our Lives after shooting
The three Deitsch siblings have devoted long hours to the March for Our Lives movement since the Parkland school shooting last year
3:20AM ( 33 minutes ago )
Politician's accuser speaks about issue of sexual assault
College professor Vanessa Tyson avoided talking directly about her accusation that Virginia's lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her, but she wasn't shy about publicly discussing her research and thoughts on the growing number of women reporting abuse
2:28AM ( 1 hour ago )
Police detective killed by friendly fire in New York City
A New York City police detective was shot and killed by friendly fire Tuesday night while responding to a report of a gunpoint robbery at a cellphone store, Commissioner James O'Neill said
1:51AM ( 2 hours ago )
No escape? El Chapo likely off to 'prison of all prisons'
A 2-time escapee from Mexican prisons, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman will likely be sentenced to the ADX Supermax in Florence, Colorado, the most secure prison ever constructed in the United States
1:48AM ( 2 hours ago )
Petal to metal: Rose inspections didn't stop during shutdown
Roses are red _ and bug-free _ after being inspected at Miami International Airport, where 90 percent of cut flowers imported into the U.S. every year are examined
1:12AM ( 2 hours ago )