USC, Occidental on List of Colleges Facing Sex Abuse Investigations

Officials at University of Southern California and Occidental College acknowledged they have underreported the number of campus sexual assaults in recent years, which is a potential violation of federal law and could lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.

USC disclosed it failed to report 13 cases to federal officials for 2010 and 2011, while Occidental acknowledged it didn't include 24 reports during the same time frame.

Women at USC, Occidental and other colleges have filed complaints with the U.S Department of Education over the past two years, claiming administrators discouraged them from reporting sexual attacks or downplayed the severity of the incidents.

"I cried because it meant that somebody was listening," USC student activist Sari Forchner said.

Thursday afternoon USC students received an email about a sexual assault that allegedly occurred off campus on Apr. 13. Some students say this is the first email of its kind they've seen, and find it peculiar given the national attention the school is getting.

"It looks very, very bad," USC student activist Leslie Berntsen said.

Federal officials could not be reached for comment because of the partial government shutdown. Colleges are required to report campus crime statistics to the U.S Department of Education under the federal Clery Act.

Each violation can draw a penalty of up to $35,000. Occidental is now under investigation for violations of the law.

Students at USC have filed a complaint alleging Clery violations that federal investigators have yet to act on.

In addition, both schools are under investigation for possible violations of Title IX, a federal antidiscrimination law that requires colleges to impartially investigate sexual assaults.

"We need to treat sexual violence like the crime that it is," Berntsen said.

Occidental officials said they discovered 49 anonymous reports of sexual assaults spanning several years in a 2010 survey conducted by Project SAFE, a campus group that seeks to raise awareness about sexual assaults.

Nineteen of those incidents should have been disclosed under federal rules, which require the reporting of all sexual assaults on campus or in the immediate vicinity.

"It was a mistake," Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada said.

The 1990 Clery Act, which stemmed from a rape and killing on a Pennsylvania campus, is intended to give the public an accurate view of campus safety, and the statistics are consulted by parents, students and others evaluating the campuses.

The law covers criminal allegations, regardless of whether they are reported to police or adjudicated in court.

USC officials sent NBC4 a statement issued in July 2013 that states the school takes sexual assaults very seriously and does not tolerate sexual misconduct.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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