WASHINGTON-- The Education Department on Thursday took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of the 55 colleges and universities currently facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints.
The release came two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. Going forward, the department said, it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request.
The agency previously would confirm such an investigation when asked, but students and others were often unaware of them.
"We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue," Catherine E. Lhamon, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.
Lhamon said a school's appearance on the list does not mean that it has violated the law but that an investigation is ongoing.
WFMY News 2 has learned that Guilford College in Greensboro is on the list after a complaint was filed by a former female student. The school provided this statement about the investigation.
The college says she wasn't satisfied by the punishment given to a male student who she says assaulted her.
Some students on campus said they're not surprised by the investigation. "It doesn't surprise me one bit because there have been some cases that the Guilfordian has talked about," said L.A. Logan, a student who also works for the college's newspaper, The Guilfordian.
Last September, the paper published an article about sexual assault victims and how they're allegedly treated by the college's judicial system. The article talks about a sexual assault at a school dance. The victim reported the attack to the college's judicial board, but the victim claims the board influenced her not to file formal charges.
When WFMY News 2's Chad Silber asked the college about this case, they referred him back to the same article saying if students are ever dissatisfied with the judicial process, they should come see them to talk about their concerns.
Silber also spoke with a student who's a member of the sexual assault advocacy group on campus. She said she's heard cases that back up the paper's allegations. "We know that a few students on campus, not knowing how many, have said that their cases weren't being handled, given proper attention and they felt re-victimized by some of the people who were handling the cases," said Shannon King.
Title IX prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions' handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.
Colby Bruno, who represents hundreds of assault victims and works with universities to educate them on Title IX, told CBS News that the federal government is "lacking" when it comes to enforcement.
"If a school doesn't have a watchdog, then the school is going to do what they want behind closed doors," Bruno said.
Asked to differentiate between schools that get it right and schools that don't, Bruno said, "The schools pay attention -- they pay attention to what students say, they pay attention to what the numbers say, they pay attention to what their federal requirements are."
Citing research, the White House has said that 1 in 5 female students is assaulted. President Barack Obama appointed a task force comprised of his Cabinet members to review the issue after hearing complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape victims and the hidden nature of such crimes.
The task force announced the creation of a website, notalone.gov, offering resources for victims and information about past enforcement actions on campuses. The task force also made a wide range of recommendations to schools, such as identifying confidential victims' advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses.
The department publicized guidance on Title IX's sexual assault provisions in 2011, and complaints by students have since increased. Complaints, however, don't always lead to an investigation.
The department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn't comply with the law, but it so far has not used that power and instead has negotiated voluntary resolutions for violators.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have said non-compliance under the law is "far too common." They say a lack of federal resources is partly to blame for that, and they've sought more money to ensure timely and proper investigations.
Another law that campus sexual assault cases fall under is the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics on or near their campuses. It also requires schools to develop prevention policies and ensure victims their basic rights. Investigations under this law are not included in the list that was released.
UNC-Chapel Hill was the only other North Carolina school on that list of 55. You'll remember four UNC women filed federal discrimination complaints against the university for its handling of sexual assault cases.