The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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May 2, 2014

Ohio State among schools investigated for handling of sex-assault complaints

The federal government is investigating three Ohio universities for their handling of sexual-assault and harassment complaints on campus.

Ohio State University, Denison University and Wittenberg University are on a list of 55 colleges and universities being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible violations of Title IX rules.

A spokesman for Ohio State said that the education department began a review of the school’s procedures in 2010, but that the university is not under investigation for any complaints related to sexual assault or harassment.

“Throughout that process, which is now winding down, OCR has consistently told us that Ohio State has impressive protocols and resources for combating sexual harassment, that no major concerns or findings have been identified, and that our protocols could serve as a model for other schools around the country,” spokesman Gary Lewis said in an email.

In the past, the department would confirm that a school was under investigation but has never provided a comprehensive list like the one released today.

“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a statement.

Lhamon added that being on the list does not indicate that a school has broken the law, but that they are being investigated for possible violations.

The office released the list days after a White House task force urged colleges to do more to prevent and respond to campus sexual assaults. The task force called for increased transparency. A news release from the Office for Civil Rights said the list bolsters that effort.

Ohio is among five states that have three or more universities on the list. Officials from the office said that they will not discuss any individual cases beyond saying when they start. The list did not indicate when probes start in Ohio, though.

Investigations could have stemmed from a complaint received by the office or from compliance reviews performed by the office. Once investigations finish, the department will disclose upon request whether the Office for Civil Rights found problems or if there is insufficient evidence of a violation.

The Department of Education chastised Ohio State in 2007 for its crime-reporting practices after a female student accused another student of raping her in a dorm in 2002. Federal officials told OSU to make more information public and to tell victims that they can request to move to a new dorm, among other measures.

Ohio State officials said earlier this week that they comply with federal rules related to sex-assault cases, and that they already meet many of the recommendations in the new White House report.

Federal Title IX rules, which date to 1972, prohibit gender discrimination at colleges and their sports programs, and they also guide schools on how to respond to sexual violence on campus.

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