February 24, 2010; Washington, D.C. – One in five women will be sexually assaulted while at college, according to a study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice – a startling statistic that begs to question how colleges are working to curb assault on campus. In a multipart NPR News Investigation beginning today, NPR correspondent Joseph Shapiro, in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity, examines why colleges and universities fail to protect women from this epidemic of sexual assault. The investigation finds that even the best-intentioned of colleges are ill-equipped to investigate rape on campus, and mete out adequate punishments. As a result, it’s rare for students to be expelled, even after they’ve been found responsible of sexual assault, creating a culture where victims cannot count on their schools or the government oversight agencies for help.

The series began today on Morning Edition <>  with an introduction from Shapiro, and continues tomorrow and Friday on All Things Considered, which will broadcast a two-part report by Shapiro on the story of one victim’s struggle for justice. Next week, NPR’s midday call-in program Talk of the Nation will devote an hour to address sexual assault on campus, and on Tell Me More, host Michel Martin plans to examine the issue from the viewpoint of school administrators dealing with assault cases. All reports in the series will be available at, along with reporting and resource information from the Center for Public Integrity. For local stations and broadcast times for NPR programs, please visit

Through interviews with victims of sexual assault and their families, and research from the Center for Public Integrity investigation <> , Shapiro reports of systemic problems with the campus policing system, and with the government’s oversight of campus safety. The U.S. Department of Education regulates campuses under the Jeanne Clery Act, which forces schools to disclose all crime that happens on campus. But Shapiro reports that when victims of assault on campus turn to the Department for help, which very few students know to do, it rarely acts. Between 1998 and 2008, the Department ruled against just five universities out of 24 complaints, and there was no punishment in those cases, simply guidance on how to improve campus procedures.

Presented with these findings, Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights, says her office is stepping up outreach to students, so they know their rights, and to schools, so they know their responsibilities. Ali tells NPR: “We want them to get training, we want to provide some help so that the adults and the students alike can ensure that this plague – it’s really has become a plague in this country – begins to diminish.”

In a two-part report, Shapiro explores the story of one university student who was sexually assaulted, and her struggle to get justice and feel safe again. After telling campus police she’d been raped by a student who lived down the hall, she and her family found the school’s policing system unable to handle her case. The campus police hadn’t collected evidence or formally questioned the man accused or rape, and discouraged her family from getting an order of protection for their daughter. A campus judicial hearing found the man responsible for “inappropriate sexual conduct” but gave the man just a mild suspension. The woman and her family asked the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate, but the office found that the university had acted appropriately.

The NPR/CPI investigation found that colleges almost never expel men who are found responsible for sexual assault. Reporters at the Center for Public Integrity discovered a database of about 130 colleges and universities that received federal grants because they wanted to do a better job dealing with sexual assault. It shows that even when men at those schools were found responsible for sexual assault, only 10 to 25 percent of them were expelled.

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The NPR News Investigative Unit crosses all news desks and programs to build upon, and strengthen the commitment to, NPR’s established investigative work. Last week, an international NPR News Investigation took three correspondents across three continents to compile an in-depth portrait of the life, background and eventual radicalization of Christmas Day bomb suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab <> . Other recent investigative series include an exposé on the bail bond system <> , which keeps a half-million non-violent inmates in jail because they can’t make bail, and a three-part series produced in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting on the U.S. government’s use of confidential informants <> .