Campus Sexual Assault - Beyond Compliance

March 15, 2017

Despite expectations that the Trump administration will take a less active stance on campus sexual violence, this issue remains a pressing concern, posing serious safety and liability risks.

Beginning with the April 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter (DCL) on sexual violence, the Obama administration heightened compliance expectations relating to the prevention and response to campus sexual misconduct. As detailed in a previous blog post, the Trump administration is backing off of those efforts. Title IX compliance, however, is just one of several forces focusing institutions on preventing and responding to sexual assault. Institutions must remain committed to its prevention.

Campus Sexual Assault Remains Prevalent

Study after study has shown the prevalence of sexual assault at higher education institutions. From the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study published by the National Institute of Justice, to the 2015 AAU campus climate survey, the 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and the 2016 Campus Climate Survey Validation Study put out by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, research consistently demonstrates that approximately 20% of undergraduate females and about 6-7% of undergraduate males experience sexual assault while in college.

Sexual assault occurs far too often, and the change in administration does not alter this grim reality. To protect their students, institutions must continue to focus on prevention and response.  

Liability Will Continue

Beyond the imperative that institutions keep students safe and treat them fairly, claims relating to campus sexual assault arise regularly and are costly. From 2006 through 2015, United Educators (UE) and its member institutions incurred more than $60 million in losses (including settlements, verdicts, and defense costs) from claims arising from campus sexual assault.

For more than a decade, UE has been raising awareness among the higher education community about these claims. In our  most   recent review of victim sexual assault claims with losses, UE found that of the approximately 1,000 victim claims received from 2011 through 2015, more than 6% resulted in an average loss of nearly $350,000. Similarly, in a review of UE’s claims filed by students accused of sexual assault, the average loss was more than $130,000. The bottom line? Sexual assault claims are expensive to defend and resolve.

OCR Has Been Less of a Factor Than You’d Expect

Even if the new administration pulls back on OCR enforcement, institutions should not expect to see a meaningful drop in  losses driven by sexual assaults reports. Only a minority of UE’s student sexual assault claim losses involved OCR complaints; specifically, 22% of losses from victim initiated claims and 4% of losses from perpetrator initiated claims involved OCR.  Rather, private litigation drove the majority of UE’s student sexual assault claim losses.

No matter what stance the Trump administration ultimately takes, sexual assaults will continue to occur on campus. Beyond the moral and mission imperative of protecting students, the liability institutions face from these assaults will continue as well, so institutions must keep advancing their prevention and response efforts.