Harrisburg, PA- The U.S. Department of Education announced last week they would be investigating Penn State’s handling of sexual harassment and assault on their campus, and will determine if the university is in compliance with federal law.
The Dept. of Education initiated the investigation after they noticed a drastic increase of “forcible sex offenses” which coincided with the Jerry Sandusky scandal of 2011–popular Coach was accused of sexually assaulting at least ten teen-aged boys. He was convicted, and is currently serving 30 to 60 years in jail.
“Our initial review of Penn State’s sexual harassment policy, compounded by a dramatic increase in the number of forcible sex offenses occurring on campus as reported by the university itself, raised legal concerns that compelled us to investigate,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights for the DOE Catherine Lhamon said in the statement.
The DOE will investigate whether the school responded appropriately to complaints of sexual harassment and assault and will determine if they were incompliance with the Clery Act. The federal agency has concerns that prior to 2012- when sexual assaults doubled– Penn State mishandled complaints to keep their numbers artificially low, according to USA Today.
According to the Pittsburg- Post Gazette, there were 56 reports of sexual assault at Penn State during 2012 compared to 24 in 2011; this is the highest rate in the nation.
A 2012 by FBI director, Louis Freeh, who was investigating the Sandusky affair said officials at Penn State, outside of the campus police, lacked “awareness and interest” in the Clery Act, USA Today reported.
The Clery Act is a 1990 law which requires universities and colleges to report crimes committed on their campus to federal authorities. It was named after Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University who was raped and murdered in her college dorm room in 1986.
The DOE’s investigation will begin with the current year of data and will likely include three additional years. The investigation could include additional years depending on the results of the initial investigation. The investigation will focus on sexual assault.
Officials at Penn State said they looked forward to assisting the DOE with their investigation.
Penn State is not being singled out and is among the several colleges who have faced intensive reviews by the DOE. Other universities that have faced similar investigations included University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Montana and University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill.
Announcement of the investigation followed a new report issued by the White House which showed that one in five female college students are sexually assaulted. The report also said that many of these incidents go unreported because of the way victims are treated and a lack of response on behalf of college officials and campus police.
In a speech, which coincided with the White House’s report, President Obama vowed to tackle sexual assault on university campuses. The investigation of Penn State however was initiated by the DOE and not by the President.