04/01/2014 03:47 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2014

Claire McCaskill Presses Education, Justice Departments On College Sexual Assault


Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is pushing Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to reveal how well their agencies are enforcing existing measures to ensure schools are handling sexual assaults on campus appropriately.

McCaskill sent letters to Duncan and Holder on Tuesday asking for a briefing. She requested that they provide her with detailed information on how the Education Department and Justice Department enforce the laws regulating how colleges handle sexual violence.

She asked for copies of any written guidance, information on all enforcement action since 1991, how many sexual assault cases are adjudicated by the universities as opposed to the criminal justice system and how many full-time employees each department has on the issue.

"I fear that, like the U.S. military, we're going to find problems on college campuses just as systemic as our troops faced -- including very low reporting due to lack of protections and resources,” McCaskill said in a statement. "No young man or woman should be left on their own after being victimized, and our schools must provide the highest level of responsiveness to ensure victims are empowered, and perpetrators are held accountable."

McCaskill asked the Education Department for the number of schools that the department has cut off from federal student aid funding for inadequate sexual violence policies since such funding began in 1991; department officials have acknowledged the agency has never taken such action against a school.

McCaskill requested the briefing as soon as possible, but no later than April 11.

The letters to come as the Education Department ramps up enforcement measures under the Obama administration, with a record number of students, faculty and alumni accusing their schools of failing victims of rape and harassment. President Barack Obama ordered a White House task force on college sexual assault in January, which is expected to make recommendations in the next couple of weeks.

A former sex crimes prosecutor, McCaskill recently led an effort to reform how the U.S. military handles sexual violence, in light of an estimated 26,000 assaults in fiscal year 2012, with dismal prosecution rates.

Her military sexual assault legislation is currently held up in the House, where it may not receive a vote this year despite clearing the Senate 97-0. McCaskill's bill passed after legislation from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to take prosecution of such cases out of the military's hands failed to overcome a filibuster.

McCaskill's proposal would eliminate the "good soldier" defense and extend recent reforms to the military service academies, in addition to other new measures already law, like appointing a special victims counsel to advise victims of their options and stripping commanders of the ability to overturn jury convictions.

The senator's office spent recent weeks in Missouri speaking with college officials about their process for handling sexual violence on campus. The University of Missouri is currently reviewing how it handles sexual violence after revelations that the state's flagship campus had failed to investigate the reported rape of a student who later committed suicide. Police are currently reviewing the case.