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2 Virginia schools among 55 facing federal sex assault probe

The federal government recently confirmed it is investigating 55 institutions of higher learning. The question being explored in each case is whether the schools violated the Title IX gender equity law by improperly handling complaints of campus sexual assault and harassment. Two Virginia schools are included on the list. One is the University of Virginia. The other is the College of William and Mary.

Most readers may be familiar with Title IX as the law that requires equal access to sports for women. Many may not be aware that the law also gives the government regulatory powers to ensure that schools that receive federal funds are following policies and procedures that to ensure that alleged victims of assault don't face discrimination for raising the alarm. 

That a victim of sexual assault might become the target of retribution by an institution for seeking help and speaking out is a hard thing to fathom, and yet it clearly occurs. And, even though Title IX and other laws are in place to assure such discrimination doesn't occur, many may be unaware what their rights are. In such situations, consulting an attorney is recommended.

According to the White House, research suggests that 20 percent of all women in college are victims of assault. It's believed, though, that many such crimes are never reported. And recent years have seen an increase in complaints under Title IX from victims of alleged campus rapes that injury has been added to by the insult of poor treatment from their schools.

Department of Education officials say the release of the names of the 55 schools being investigated is part of a strategy aimed at bringing more transparency to the issue of sexual abuse in higher education and how it is being handled.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan stresses that there is no presumption of guilt for schools on the list -- only that a complaint has been made. He says if investigation reveals that no violations occurred, that will be loudly publicized.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, "William & Mary, U.Va. face federal sex assault inquiry," Kimberly Hefling, The Associated Press, May 2, 2014

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