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Task force to unveil college sexual assault recommendations

A White House task force is set to announce new proposals for fighting rape on college campuses at an event with survivors and advocates.
UNC-Chapel Hill students stand during a rally Friday March 1, 2013.
UNC-Chapel Hill students stand during a rally Friday March 1, 2013. Landen Gambill (C) was charged with an honor code violation for speaking out about alleged abuse and sexual violence by an ex-boyfriend.

The White House task force dedicated to reducing sexual assault on college campuses is set to release a slate of recommendations Tuesday, a move by the Obama administration to combat an epidemic that has resulted in Title IX complaints and lawsuits against universities across the country.

The recommendations will be unveiled at an event Tuesday attended by sexual assault survivors and advocates and task force members.

Annie Clark, a co-founder of End Rape on Campus who will be attending the event, said that she is optimistic about the recommendations. “This is definitely a big first step in terms of the White House recognizing the problem,” Clark told msnbc. “We know it’s not going to be complete, that not everyone will be satisfied, and we have a long way to go, but this can lay the groundwork.”

President Obama announced the formation of White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on January 22 and ordered it to submit proposals within 90 days. While some advocates and lawmakers have called for greater transparency in Department of Education investigations of Title IX complaints, others want to see a wider range of possible penalties for schools that violate Title IX.

Students from California to New Hampshire have filed complaints alleging that their schools botched responses to sexual assault reports, and those complaints could only represent a fraction of cases. According to USA Today, the Office for Civil Rights has received more sexual assault-related Title IX complaints in the past six months than it did in all of the 2013 fiscal year.

In April, students at both Harvard and Columbia universities announced Title IX complaints against their schools, adding them to a list that includes Occidental College in California, the University of Colorado-Boulder, Dartmouth, and the University of North Carolina, among others. 

Title IX is a part of federal law that requires all educational institutions that receive federal money to treat male and female students equitably. Title IX includes educational and athletic opportunities as well as mandating safe environments free of sexual harassment and assault.  

“What students are hoping for is for the Department of Education to enforce their own laws and to be given the tools to do that,” Clark told msnbc. A school found violating Title IX could lose the funds it receives from the federal government, but in practice, this has never happened. Intermediate penalties like fines could give the Department of Education greater leeway to penalize schools for mishandling sexual assault cases, Clark said.

When Obama formed the task force, he ordered it to “develop a coordinated federal response to campus rape and sexual assault” to help colleges and universities better serve the men and women who are victimized during college. Other legislators have called for changes to how colleges deal with sexual assault. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, drafted a letter to the White House task force that called for greater transparency in Title IX investigations, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, has called for campus safety information to be included in the college rankings released each year by U.S. News and World Report.

According to current estimates, one in six women and one in 33 men are victims of sexual assault during college. Only 12% of rape survivors in college report the crime to authorities.