Louisiana advocates against sexual assault say they want to survey college students about their experiences on campuses here.
A task force formed by state Sen. J.P. Morrell to address campus sexual assault met for the first time Wednesday at the State Capitol to provide a general overview of plans for addressing the topic.
One agreement the task force members came to early on in the meeting: They need more data before moving forward.
“The problem you have right now — as long as the data isn’t complete — people say, ‘Things aren’t as bad as you say they are,’ ” said Morrell, who formed the task force after he received a statewide report from the state Board of Regents.
Morrell, D-New Orleans, said he thinks an anonymous online-based survey could provide more accurate state-based data about sexual assault on Louisiana campuses. He pointed to a similar national survey performed by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to show the kinds of information that could be gleaned from such a report.
No official timeline was given for when the survey could start, but the task force is being split into subcommittees to identify various issues and questions that should be addressed.
Alyson Neel, public policy student and human rights journalist who serves on the task force, said that the effort will be good for colleges to learn more about their students.
“There are so many models for this that exist,” Neel said. “We don’t even have to reinvent the wheel.”
Morrell said his goal is to form state legislation with the group’s findings, after the Regents report found a lack of uniformity in addressing campus assault.
“Whatever we do this coming year will be the beginning of a long conversation,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight.”
The report from the Board of Regents showed colleges and universities across the state have been handling allegations of sexual assault in varying ways. Louisiana has no statewide policy for handling them.
“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,” the Regents report concluded.
Uma Subramanian, deputy commissioner for legal and external affairs, told task force members Wednesday that any proposals should keep in mind that campuses aren’t uniform across the state.
“Everything is so different,” she said, adding another point of concern: “There are a lot of legal uncertainties.”
The Board of Regents has said it will create its own working group to look at the issue.
Subramanian said it appears Louisiana colleges and universities have been under-reporting crimes to the federal government.
“It certainly looks like that,” she said.
Campus sexual assault has seen a recent spike in attention nationally, with several high-profile inquiries on the federal level.
On Oct. 1, Louisiana colleges and universities were required under the federal Cleary Act to report the number of various campus crimes to the federal government.
In the annual filings submitted this month, LSU reported 10 cases of on-campus forcible sex offenses in 2013; Southern University reported three; Tulane reported seven on-campus sex offenses; University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana Tech each reported having none; and Southeastern reported three.
Task force members said they question whether those figures accurately reflect the reality on campus.
Tulane general counsel Scott D. Schneider, who was serving as an advisory capacity, said getting anonymous data will allow students to speak more freely.
“Despite our efforts to say report, report, report we know we’re not collecting anywhere near the real rate,” he said, calling campus sexual assault occurrence one of the most important civil rights issue of today.