Louisiana has no statewide policy for handling allegations of sexual assault on college and university campuses, leaving students open to varied experiences depending on which school they attend, according to a report the state Board of Regents released Monday.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat who had asked for the statewide look, said legislation likely will be proposed during the Louisiana Legislature’s 2015 session to address sexual assault on college campuses and possibly make policies more uniform.
“I appreciate that the systems are taking some proactive steps, such as a joint Title IX seminar this November, but it will likely require legislation to direct focus and specific responsibility in crafting statewide policy in regards to sexual assault on college campuses,” Morrell said.
Campus sexual assault has seen a recent spike in attention nationally, with several high-profile inquiries on the federal level.
None of Louisiana’s colleges are among the 76 schools under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over how they handle sexual assault allegations, but a national survey that U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released this summer found lax policies on campuses across the country.
Morrell said the McCaskill report inspired him to look into the situation here.
“I feel like it’s an issue that has to be resolved,” Morrell said.
The Board of Regents concludes in its report that, “Louisiana’s campuses are striving to form an effective but fair response to the issue of sexual assaults; however, significant additional measures are necessary to ensure that college campuses are safe spaces for students.”
“This review is an initial step toward an integrated, statewide venture to tackle a complex issue,” the board notes in its report.
The board adds that it will convene a working group, made up of the state’s four college and university systems, though the state board can’t implement policy without a change to state law.
The board’s analysis of data that the schools submitted notes that incidents on campuses here were below the national average but also points out that many cases go unreported.
LSU — the state’s largest university — had 22 sexual assault cases reported from January 1, 2009, to December 31, 2013, according to the report. Grambling had the next most with 15 reports during that period, followed by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with 13. The report only looks at public universities and colleges.
Morrell said Monday afternoon that he needed more time to digest the 500-plus-page report, which the Board of Regents sent to him shortly after 4 p.m.
But he expressed some frustration that the responses were overly broad — some campuses submitted entire student handbooks, when his request was more specific. He also took issue with the fact that training on how to respond to sexual assault varies — some schools require training for faculty and staff; some don’t. Some have student programs, while others don’t.
Morrell also questioned the figures reported and why they are so far below the national average. Prior to the report’s release, Morrell had questioned whether all incidences were making it into campus reports.
“If the number I get back seems completely out of whack, then the respective university or campus should prove it’s accurate,” he said.
According to data that the schools are required to file annually with the federal government, private university Tulane reported 15 on-campus forcible sexual assault cases between 2009 and 2012, the most recent figures available through that database.
LSU reported 13 cases during the same period, followed by Southeastern Louisiana with seven, Southern University with five, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette and University of Louisiana at Monroe with four each.
Meanwhile, Grambling had reported just two to the federal government during that period.
Morrell said one of his concerns that led to him seeking the state-level data was that federal reporting is lax.
“I have a suspicion that most universities fudge those numbers,” he said. “They are providing sufficient data so they don’t get dinged if they don’t respond, but they don’t paint an accurate picture whatsoever.”