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UMASS’ Ongoing Federal Sexual Assault Investigations

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Is UMass under-reporting?

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is one of a growing list of U.S. Colleges that are being investigated by federal authorities for Title IX Sexual Violence cases.

The difference for UMass is that it has two major cases pending and one of the cases is among the longest pending cases in America.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst was one of the initial 55 colleges under investigation in this wave of federal enforcement as announced by the Education Department in May 2014.

  • Students have protested the institution’s handling of sexual assault.
  • Two students accused of sexual assault, one who was expelled by the university and one who was found not responsible for assault but was suspended, have sued the institution, saying they were falsely accused and discriminated against. The former lawsuit was thrown out by a federal judge in July 2015.
  • The institution has affirmed its commitment to victims of sexual assault, collected resources online, provided bystander-intervention training for students, and conducted a campus climate survey, among other things.

In the first week in June the U.S. Department of Education released more updated data on sexual assaults on more than 100 campuses. The number for many colleges raised questions about underreporting. UMass only reported ten rapes.

Are Colleges Under-reporting

The data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals that Brown University  and University of Connecticut have the highest number of  reported rapes of any school in the U.S. —  tied 43.

Brown, an Ivy League institution, has about 9,200 students, and UConn has about 26,500. 

For UMass which has 28,635 reported just ten rapes during the same period. The number of rapes at UMass reported are just 0.3 per 1,000 students. In contrast, UConn’s rate per 1,000 students is 1.6 or more than 500% higher.

Officials at the University of Rhode Island worry that the school maybe under-reporting — or are their students just not coming forward? 

“So we asked ourselves the same question,” said Mary Jo Gonzales in an interview with GoLocal -- she is the Interim Vice President for Student Affairs at URI. “We have a sexual assault response team who meets every Monday and reviews cases and offers a case management approach to help us.  We took a comprehensive look at why we had a decrease in numbers, our pattern has been steadily going down. One [reason] is that we saw an uptick of off-campus sexual assaults that are not reported under the Clery Act. We have a sizable off campus population, roughly three thousand to five thousand students, who live in Narragansett were activities can happen.”

The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to collect and disclose information about crime on their respective campuses.

Gonzales said that the off-campus divide did not stop the school from taking a proactive approach, however. URI has a a ratio of 0.2 rapes per 1,000 — similar to UMass’ number.

At UMass, one organization Coalition to End Rape Culture at the University of Massachusetts which was founded in 2012, is working for adoption by the University of a Survivor’s Bill of Rights — which has yet to be adopted. 

UMass did create a Title IX website for students.

The problem is widespread. UMass is not alone, the government has conducted 292 investigations of colleges for possibly mishandling reports of sexual violence. To date, 49 cases have been resolved and 243 remain open.


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