Rape Victims Find Little Help On College Campuses

This week, NPR launched a series of stories its investigative team has been working on with reporters at the Center for Public Integrity. The investigation focuses on the troubling and persistent problem of sexual assaults on American college campuses. NPR's investigative team has been working with reporters at the Center for Public Integrity to look at the troubling problem of sexual assaults on American college campuses. Those reports have been heard on NPR this week. Joseph Shapiro, the lead reporter for the series, speaks with host Scott Simon to talk about the findings.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week, NPR launched a series of stories its investigative team has been working on with reporters at the Center for Public Integrity. The investigation focuses on the troubling and persistent problem of sexual assaults on U.S. college campuses.

Joseph Shapiro, NPRs lead reporter for the series, joins us now. Joe, thanks very much for being with us.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Im glad to be here.

SIMON: What are some of the investigation's findings?

SHAPIRO: Well, first we found that colleges almost never expel men who are found responsible for sexual assault. Our colleagues at The Center for Public Integrity discovered a database of a small number of colleges and universities. These were ones that had applied for federal grants because they wanted to do a better job of fighting sexual assault. And even at these schools, these motivated schools, when a man was found responsible for a sexual assault, just 10 to 25 percent of them were expelled.

SIMON: Is this not a police matter? I mean, thats criminal conduct.

SHAPIRO: Police often dont want to take these cases because they are not clearcut. There is often alcohol involved, often the assailant is someone the woman knows. It often comes down to the version of the man against the version of the woman. Also, campuses have their own police forces, who handle these cases, but they are not really equipped to do a criminal investigation.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. What kind of reaction have you been getting from colleges or Department of Education?

SHAPIRO: Well, we presented the findings of our study to Russlynn Ali. She is the new assistant secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education. And she says she wants her department to be more aggressive. So, she is ready to - she says, to take some of the toughest sanctions that are available to her, things that her predecessors havent done. She can seek to withdraw federal funds from a university if its not done enough to try to prevent sexual assaults. And she can also refer cases to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

SIMON: What are some of the other things that colleges and universities can do or are doing to try and stem the problem...

SHAPIRO: Well, you know, typically, the school teaches students how to reduce their risk. So they say to women, watch how much you drink, dont leave your Red Bull and vodka unattended, so nobody can slip a date rape drug into it. But there are problems with that kind of risk reduction strategy because it puts all the responsibility on the woman. And it can end up...

SIMON: Which sems to - I mean, to be plain about it, puts all the blame on the woman.

SHAPIRO: And - exactly and all the blame on the woman as well.

SIMON: And are there other approaches that might be more promising in the environment of a campus?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely. And its called bystander education, so the idea is that you teach everyone, men and women, what they can do to prevent sexual assaults and also to teach them that they have a responsibility to do so. So, its very similar to what we do if - to prevent drunk driving, right. So, we see a friend who has had too much to drink. You know, we know, we give him a ride, we call a taxi, we hide the keys. And this is the same idea. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire, I talked to, have developed one of the bystander education models.

And theyve got research that shows that it works. And they do a lot of role playing. So, they say, they teach students what should you say when youre at a party and you hear your friends say, you know, there is, that girl is really hot. Im going to get her really drunk. And they teach the friends to speak up and you say, hey man, thats messed up, you know, thats not the way you get a girl.

And right now, actually at the University of New Hampshire, there is a big social marketing campaign, every bus on campus, every bathroom stall, every campus computer, every time it turns on, it pops up a poster that has a - this kind of scene and dialogue on it. And the tag line says: friends watch out for one another, especially when there is alcohol involved.

SIMON: Joseph Shapiro is the lead reporter for NPR's series on campus rape, and those stories are archived on our Web site npr.org. Joe, thank you.

SHAPIRO: Thank you, Scott.

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