Pressured to punish

Though campuses are investigating more cases of sex assault, there’s still disagreement over the best way to handle them.

Buckling under enormous federal pressure, colleges nationwide have begun to impose newly sharpened sexual assault policies. 
At the University of Minnesota, the number of sexual misconduct cases has also ticked up in recent years — though at its peak the school only investigated a dozen in 2014. 
Offenders at the University have also faced stiffer discipline starting in 2011, the year the U.S. Department of Education started to threaten funding for schools that fail to adequately address sexual violence. Still, in almost 28 percent of cases, alleged offenders have been cleared of wrongdoing |after going through the University’s investigative and disciplinary processes, according to data obtained from the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.
The rate of students found responsible has sporadically jumped up from 50 percent in 2009 to about 67 percent in 2015. That means about one in four alleged offenders were not found culpable across the 43 reports of sexual assault, harassment or exploitation since 2009.
“Are more students being held accountable?” said W. Scott Lewis, an attorney and partner with the NCHERM Group, which advises educational institutions on risk management and best practices in areas like Title IX compliance. 
“That statistic we do know has gone up nationally — but there’s also been more reporting,” he said. “What I’ve heard from some of the campuses we work with is because they’ve gotten better at investigating, more accountability is in place.”
For students found responsible of committing a sexual offense, University discipline has been inconsistent, the data shows. In sexual assault cases — which constitute a majority of cases at the University since 2009 — punishment almost always ranges between probation, suspension and expulsion. In the last seven years, one sexual assault
offender received a “warning and admonition,” while three others were expelled for the same type of violation.
The University is not alone in those findings. Colleges nationwide accompany the school in grappling with campus sexual misconduct and face regular outcry from lawyers, victim advocates, faculty members and students.
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