Sexual Assault in a Bureaucracy: How Universities and the Military Fail Victims

"Reporting a sexual assault is immensely difficult no matter where it occurs, because it is the most personally painful and private moment of a victim’s life, but it is often exacerbated in these closed environments," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said. "Reporting a sexual assault is immensely difficult no matter where it occurs, because it is the most personally painful and private moment of a victim’s life, but it is often exacerbated in these closed environments," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Sens. Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand have been leading the effort to hold universities accountable for the way they handle sexual assault on campus, similar to their efforts to reform the military in 2013. It's not a coincidence that both the university and the military struggle with this issue. While researching sexual assault on campuses, "I’ve been struck by similarities in the experiences of some victims on college campuses to those on military bases," McCaskill said in a statement to The Wire. McCaskill continued:

Reporting a sexual assault is immensely difficult no matter where it occurs, because it is the most personally painful and private moment of a victim’s life, but it is often exacerbated in these closed environments — where it may be difficult to come forward and report, because victims often feel they are under a microscope, may often know their attacker, and may have difficulty navigating the complexities on how to report these crimes.

Emphasis added. As McCaskill notes, women who are sexually assaulted on campus and in the military often face similar hurdles in reporting their assaults. Even though the military is typically characterized as a macho environment — Army leaders have said culture is at least partially to blame for the high number of assaults — and universities are majority women, both are big bureaucracies. 

Victims of sexual assault on campus and in the military might know their attacker, for one. He might be a superior or someone in her English class. Because these attackers are members of the same institutions as their victims, the institutions must consider both members when dealing with the incident. That's where the victim often gets left hanging in the wind, like the Florida State University woman who says Heisman winner Jameis Winston assaulted her in 2012. FSU didn't investigate the incident until 2014, after Winston won the championship game. McCaskill told Bloomberg this week, "There have been many allegations that universities have looked the other way when the perpetrator was a member of an athletic team." 

It's this kind of abject mishandling that McCaskill and Gillibrand want to stop. After getting bipartisan support for legislation to address military sexual assault last year, both have asked for more federal funding to investigate campus sexual assaults. McCaskill is surveying more than 350 colleges over the next few weeks to determine how officials handle the issue, and will eventually develop a plan for reform.

Meanwhile, the White House's task force on sexual assault on campus will release its recommendations as early as this week. So finally, many universities are feeling the pressure to increase reporting, investigate assaults, and punish attackers. It's not just President Obama and the Senate pressuring schools, either — Dartmouth's string of high-profile sexual assault cases has led to a 14 percent decline in applications this year. 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.