Nearly 300 complaints of sexual assault were reported to Minnesota colleges or universities in 2015, and 79 resulted in disciplinary action greater than a warning, according to information made public under a new state law.
The report, initially released Thursday, is the first of its kind to publicly track the outcome of sexual assault investigations on Minnesota campuses.
It shows that only 53 percent of the 294 sexual assault complaints resulted in a formal investigation on campus, according to revised numbers posted on Friday. Many cases were dropped before an investigation could be completed, the report found, in part because victims chose not to cooperate.
The report, by the state Office of Higher Education, found that a dozen campuses statewide had more than 10 sexual assault complaints in 2015. The University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, which has some 50,000 students, had the highest number of reported cases, 47.
Three private schools reported 20 or more cases: the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University (21), Carleton College (20) and the University of St. Thomas (20).
Many campuses, however, including a large number of community colleges, reported no sexual assaults last year.
Experts say the reported cases likely represent only a fraction of the true number of incidents on college campuses. But they note that the report, which was required by a 2015 state law, is the first to shed light on what happens, statistically speaking, after the assaults are reported.
“I think some victims decide, once they start getting into the process, that they don’t want to continue,” said Caroline Palmer, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She said she wasn’t surprised that only about one in four complaints resulted in disciplinary action against the accused.
“It reflects society in general’s response to sexual assault,” she said. “We can all do better.”
The report, which will be updated annually, tracked a range of sexual offenses, including rape, fondling without consent and statutory rape.
A fraction reported to police
Of the incidents reported to the campuses, only 54, or 18 percent, were reported to police, according to the revised numbers. Federal rules require campuses to conduct their own investigations, but they often drop cases for a number of reasons, the report said, including lack of cooperation from the victim.
Curiously, the report found that in 68 cases, the accused students were found responsible for sexual assault; but that disciplinary action was taken in 79 cases. Nichole Sorenson, a research analyst who compiled the report for the Office of Higher Education, said she was puzzled by those findings. She said the data, provided by the schools, did not explain the discrepancy.
The report did not identify whether the disciplined students were suspended, expelled or faced lesser penalties.
Sorenson cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from a single report. But she predicted that future reports could show an uptick in sexual assault complaints, as victims are encouraged to come forward. “It’s possible that these numbers can go up because the culture around sexual assault has improved so that people do feel more comfortable reporting,” she said.