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A Shared Responsibility: Why Colleges And Universities Must Respond To Campus Sexual Assault

Students walk past the Old Main building on the Penn State campus Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in State College, Pa.

CREDIT: AP/Matt Rourke.

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During the past several months, sexual assault in higher education has received increased national attention. Currently, several colleges and universities are being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education for failing to properly address sexual assault. Sexual assault poses a threat to students’ fundamental civil right of equal access to education.

High-profile and shocking cases of sexual assault in schools like Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Columbia University, and the University of California have recently grabbed national headlines. That attention, and subsequent investigations into procedures that deal with these crimes, have revealed the inadequate responses from an overwhelming number colleges and universities as they address sexual assault.

Although sexual assault affects all students, young women are disproportionately impacted by sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice, one in five women experience an attempted or completed sexual assault while in college. Colleges and universities currently have many tools, as well as the responsibility to address instances of sexual assault on their campuses. They can offer services that law enforcement cannot and as such, must provide accommodations, including academic ones, to survivors.

This report examines the various pieces of federal legislation that currently exist regarding sexual assault in higher education, as well as the current responsibilities colleges and universities have to make sure all students have access to a safe learning environment.

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