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Call 6: Concern mounts over Trump impact on sexual violence investigations

Posted at 6:58 PM, Nov 28, 2016

The U.S. Office for Civil Rights has launched a fourth Title IX investigation at IU Bloomington, as campus leaders nationwide anticipate how a Trump administration will impact federal scrutiny into how universities handle sexual misconduct cases.

Title IX is the 1972 federal civil rights law that requires universities to investigate reports of sexual misconduct, and decide whether the students involved violated the university’s code of conduct.

In 2011, the Obama administration started urging colleges to better investigate reports of sexual misconduct on campus.

OCR currently has 287 open investigations across the country, including at nine institutions in Indiana, into how colleges and universities deal with sexual violence reports.

OCR currently has 589 workers to handle more than 10,000 complaints, and some open investigations have been ongoing for several years, according to records obtained by Call 6 Investigates.

For example, OCR opened its first Title IX investigation at IU Bloomington in March 2014 and has yet to be resolved.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Call 6 Investigates about his plans for the Office for Civil Rights and staffing of Title IX cases.

However, the GOP platform released at the convention was critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Title IX.

“Sexual assault is a terrible crime…Whenever reported, it must be promptly investigated by civil authorities and prosecuted in a courtroom, not a faculty lounge. Questions of guilt or innocence must be decided by a judge and jury, with guilt determined beyond a reasonable doubt. Those convicted of sexual assault should be punished to the full extent of the law. The Administration’s distortion of Title IX to micro manage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse contravenes our country’s legal traditions and must be halted before it further muddles this complex issue and prevents the proper authorities from investigating and prosecuting sexual assault effectively with due process.”

Dr. Mahri Irvine, director of campus initiatives for the Indiana Coalition To End Sexual Assault, said it’s a misconception that universities conduct criminal investigations.

“They’re not involved in criminal investigations, they’re involved in student investigations, and that’s a really important distinction for us to make,” said Irvine. 

Irvine praised the outgoing administration for encouraging rape victims to speak up.

“They’re really feeling fired up now, and rightly so,” said Irvine. “They’re feeling very empowered because they know what their rights are as students.”

Irvine said she and other campus leaders are anxious about the turnover in the administration.

“Some people have concerns that the incoming administration will roll back some of the Title IX guidance and interpretations,” said Irvine. “We don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I do have a lot of faith in students in

Indiana and across the country.”

MORE FROM CALL 6 | Indiana campus sexual assault reports rising | 5 things not to say to a sexual assault survivorColleges moving toward 'yes means yes' standard | 5 apps to protect your safety on campus

Call 6 Investigates reached out to Republican Congressmen Todd Young, Todd Rokita, Luke Messer, as well as Congresswoman Susan Brooks for what they think should happen to the Office for Civil Rights and their

investigations into how universities handle sexual violence.

Rep. Susan Brooks (IN-District 5) sent Call 6 Investigates the following statement:

“I've worked to protect and enhance the rights of victims of sexual assault throughout my career, including as a Deputy Mayor of Indianapolis and a U.S. Attorney. Most recently, I was proud to be part of passing the Survivors’ Bill of Rights into law which makes sure that survivors are clearly told their legal rights, are able to track the status and results of their rape kit, do not pay for a rape kit exam, and are able to get the police report. I'm also a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act which would incentivize schools to take proactive steps to protect students and to rid campuses of sexual predators. I want to continue this work in the next Congress and ensure that survivors of sexual assault have access to justice.”