Significant Backlog in Dept of Ed Investigation of Sexual Assault Complaints.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights revealed in a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer that it has taken an average of over 4 years to investigate a complaint that a college/university is not complying with Title IX. This information was provided in response to a request for information by Senators Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

In its response the Department reported that 241 sexual violence complaints against postsecondary educational institution were filed with OCR from October 2008 through April 8, 2015. 102 of the complaints were filed during fiscal year 2014, and another 51 for the current fiscal year through April 8, 2015.  Of these 241 complaints OCR is currently investigating 112.

Even though the Dept of Ed stated that their goal is to complete investigations within 180 days, it reported that for FY 2014 the average length of time it took to arrive at substantive closures of sexual violence investigations involving postsecondary institutions was 1,469 days (for FY 2015 the average number of days is  940).

The Dept of Ed attributed the length of time it took to close sexual violence complaints was because of the complexity of the issues and the comprehensive nature of their investigations. Of course, there was also a  plea for additional funding due to the increased work load from the increase in sexual violence complaints.

Institutions should be aware the Dept of Ed indicated that the following items are involved in its investigation of a complaint involving allegations of sexual violence on a college/university campus: (1) an examination of the campus culture with respect to sexual violence; (2) a review of the institution’s response to complaints of sexual violence over a period of years; (3) interviews of students who filed sexual violence complaints; (4) interviews of school officials involved in responding to sexual violence reports and complaints; (5) meetings with individual students and student groups; (6) a review of the institution’s Title IX sexual violence policies and procedures; and (7) a review of an institution’s training protocol on sexual violence issues for its campus community. The Department stated it follows the processes in its Case Processing Manual.

What is ironic about how long it takes the Dept of Ed to conduct its investigations is the fact that the Department has previously indicated that colleges/universities should be able to conduct and conclude their investigations of allegations of sexual violence within 60 days.  It is wondered whether the Department has considered streamlining or abandoning certain aspects of their investigation of a complaint in the interest of providing a prompt response to not only the complainant but also the responding college/university.  All parties would benefit from a more expedited review of whether allegations of sexual violence are being properly addressed on college campuses.

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