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Education Department to investigate sexual assault on campus

By Conor McAteer / For The Pitt News

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While Pitt isn’t under federal investigation for Title IX violations, some other Pennsylvania universities are. .

The U.S. Office for Civil Rights released a list of 55 colleges and universities, including Temple University and Carnegie Mellon University, under investigation for possible Title IX violations last month. 

Although the U.S. Department of Education has not revealed specifics about what the investigations will include, the Department released guidelines alongside the list on how government-funded schools should handle sexual violence and discrimination. The Department will not disclose anything related to specific universities or cases. But upon request, the Department will update the information on each university’s compliance with Title IX when the investigations have concluded and each university has come to an “agreement” with the Department on how to address sexual violence in the future.

The Office for Civil Rights’ website states that Title IX “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.” 

Title IX violations could include failure to report sexually motivated crimes, like sexual assault or rape, but no specific Title IX violations were included for any of the universities listed.

Mary Koch Ruiz, Pitt’s Sexual Assault Services coordinator, said the University is educating staff and faculty about the importance of reporting crimes in an accurate and timely manner. She said the University is also informing employees about the 1990 Clery Act, which requires all federally funded colleges and universities to disclose crime on their campuses.  

According to Ruiz, sexual assault counselors will inform Pitt students of any information relating to sexual assault if they seek help.

“Depending on the circumstances, victims may have the options, among other remedies, to obtain no-contact orders, seek room or course changes, file student judicial or administrative harassment complaints and pursue criminal complaints,” Ruiz said.

Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, said in a statement that the Office of Civil Rights released the list to “bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights.” 

Lhamon clarified the implications of inclusion on the list.

“I also want to make it clear that a college or university’s appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law,” she said. 

The Office for Civil Rights has not yet filed any criminal charges against the universities listed as of May 20. The schools are only under investigation and may be compelled to update their policies regarding sexual violence, harrassment or discrimination.

Though Pitt is not on the list, another Pennsylvania state-affiliated school, Temple University, is. Temple sophomore Katie Reed spoke about Temple’s handling of sexual assault on campus. 

“It’s not handled at all, especially at Temple, unless it’s something that was brought to the attention of the news media. That’s the only time Temple will acknowledge it,” Reed said.

Reed would not specify if she had any personal experience with how Temple handles reports of sexual assault.

Ray Betzner, a Temple University spokesman, said the university treats complaints of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking with “tremendous care and confidentiality.”

“That’s why you likely don’t hear many cases being investigated — because of that confidentiality,” Betzner said.

Betzner refused to  details on Temple’s investigation. 

“Both the university and the Office of Civil Rights are very vigilant about protecting the privacy of individuals,” Betzner said. “We have fully cooperated with the OCR since they contacted us and look for a resolution in the near future.”

Abby Simmons, a Carnegie Mellon University spokeswoman, gave an official written statement from the university on CMU’s inclusion on the list.

“The university takes very seriously its obligations under Title IX and its commitment to provide a safe and secure environment for our students and other members of the university community,” Simmons said in the statement.

According to the statement, CMU intends to “fully cooperate” with the investigation and is “reviewing policies procedures and education/training initiatives” to align CMU’s policy with the goals of the Office for Civil Rights.

Data from a 2012 Center for Disease Control national survey shows that 19 percent of undergraduate women have been victims of  sexual violence.

Ruiz said there were multiple reasons why victim might be unwilling to press charges.

“The biggest fear that victims have is the fear of not being believed,” Ruiz said. “The other reason is that victims tend to blame themselves; self-blame is an attempt to feel some semblance of control, albeit it artificial.”

 

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Education Department to investigate sexual assault on campus