Elise Amendola / AP

55 colleges face federal inquiry over handling of sexual assault reports

Major schools including Harvard, Ohio State University under investigation amid growing outcry over campus assault issue

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities facing an investigation over their handling of sexual assault reports under Title IX, a law that regulates institutions' handling of sexual violence.

The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. The department said from now on it will keep an updated list of schools facing Title IX investigations, and make it available upon request.

The schools range from big public universities including Ohio State University, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Arizona State University to private schools such as Knox College in Illinois, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Catholic University of America in the District of Columbia. Ivy League schools including Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list. (See the full list here.)

The department would previously confirm such investigations when asked, but students and others were often unaware of them.

"We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue," Catherine E. Lhamon, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a news release.

Lhamon said a school's appearance on the list does not mean that it has violated the law, but that an investigation is ongoing.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees female students equal access to sports, but is increasingly being used by sexual assault survivors who say their schools failed to protect them.

Citing research, the White House has said that 1 in 5 female students is assaulted. President Barack Obama appointed a task force made up of Cabinet members to review the issue after hearing complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape survivors and the hidden nature of such crimes.

The task force announced the creation of a website, NotAlone.gov, offering resources for survivors and information about past enforcement actions on campuses. The task force also made a wide range of recommendations to schools, such as identifying confidential survivors' advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses.

The department publicized guidance on Title IX's sexual assault provisions in 2011, and reports by students have since increased. Reports, however, do not always lead to an investigation.

The department can withhold federal funding from a school that does not comply with the law, but so far it has not used that power and instead has negotiated voluntary resolutions for violators.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said noncompliance under the law is "far too common." They say that a lack of federal resources is partly to blame for that, and that they have sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations.

Another law that campus sexual assault cases fall under is the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report statistics about crime on or near their campuses. It also requires schools to develop prevention policies and ensure survivors their basic rights. Investigations under this law are not included in the list that was released.

The Associated Press

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