The number of sexual violence offenses at colleges reported to the Department of Education—and the length it takes to resolve such investigations—is up, according to a letter from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
The letter was sent to a group of senators who requested more information about the department's progress. It detailed that from 2009 to 2013, the number of reported assaults almost doubled from 3,357 to 6,073 cases. And it is likely the actual number of sex offenses was even higher, as these crimes are often underreported.
The data show the Education Department "must step up its efforts to address the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, and why Congress must ensure it has the resources it needs to protect students," says Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California).
The rising numbers likely reflect improved processes for reporting the crimes and collecting data about them. However, many schools remain inconsistent and there have been complaints they intentionally underreport, says Laura Palumbo, a prevention campaign specialist at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
But as the number of reported cases increased, staffing levels declined and the average length of time to reach "substantive closures" took about four years in 2014—a far cry from the 180 days that OCR names as its goal, says Catherine Lhamon, co-author of the letter and assistant secretary for civil rights.
In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, OCR completed "some of its longest-running sexual-violence investigations" while taking on increased workloads. In 2009, just 379 cases were closed compared with 1,469 in 2014. Already this year, 940 have been solved (Hefling, AP/U.S. News & World Report, 5/5; DeSantis, "The Ticker," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/5).
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