Universities in US try to cover up rapes says report

A Washington-based investigative journalism organization said in a report issued Tuesday that it found a “culture of secrecy” surrounding sexual assault cases on university campuses across the U.S.

The report by the Center for Public Integrity showed that nearly half of the 33 female students it interviewed in the past year about being raped were unsuccessful in pursuing criminal charges.

That left the campus judiciary system as their only recourse. But victims who take that route “face proceedings that are shrouded in secrecy, where they encounter mysterious disciplinary proceedings, where they themselves are shut out of the hearing process,” Kristen Lombardi, lead reporter on the nine-month investigation, said during a news conference broadcast Tuesday.

Nearly a third of the 33 victims said school administrators discouraged them from pursuing complaints, and about a dozen experienced confidentiality requirements “sometimes followed by threats of punishment if they were to disclose any information about the case,” Lombardi said.

The 33 students interviewed for the study represent only a fraction of the sexual assault cases at campuses nationwide. The U.S. Department of Education’s office of post-secondary education said there were 2,532 forcible sex offenses in campuses in 2007.

A 2005 study by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Justice Department, found that one in five women on a college campus will be the victim of rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates.

The Center for Public Integrity did not reveal where the 33 victims went to school or where the clinics and crisis-services programs were located, citing confidentiality.

The center’s study revealed that fewer than 5% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities. Victims who do report an assault on campus face a “litany of barriers,” said Bill Buzenberg, the center’s executive director, including “confidential agreements and off-the-record negotiations with administrators and guidance counselors uninterested in the victim’s plight altogether.”

Another key finding by the center was that the campus judicial system resulted in lenient punishment. Expulsion is a rarity, Lombardi said.

Michele Cole, a victim advocate with Ball State University’s office of victim services who is consulted every time a sexual assault is reported, advises victims about both the criminal system and the campus judicial system.

“If they’re going to file one (complaint), I encourage them to file the other,” Cole said. “My function is to break down those barriers so that the victim doesn’t feel like they have to be silenced.”


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