Sexual assaults most likely off-campus

WASHINGTON (AP) — At some of the nation’s largest universities, the vast majority of sexual assaults take place not in dorm rooms or even on school property, but in the neighborhoods beyond campus boundaries, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

But the schools’ obligation to investigate and respond to those off-campus attacks could be dramatically reduced by an Education Department proposal that’s included in its broader overhaul of campus sexual assault rules. And that’s alarmed advocacy groups and school officials who say it would strip students of important protections in the areas where most of them live.

At the University of Texas, the Austin campus has received 58 reports of sexual assault on campus grounds since fall 2014, while during the same period it fielded 237 in private apartments, houses and other areas outside campus. Another 160 reports didn’t include locations.

“The majority of our students are just not in proximity to campus, and a lot of things happen when they’re not on campus,” said Krista Anderson, the university’s Title IX coordinator. Of the school’s 51,000 students, she said, only about 18 percent live in campus housing.

For now, federal guidelines urge colleges to take action against any sexual misconduct that disrupts a student’s education, regardless of where it took place.

But in its proposed rule, the department says schools of all levels should be required to address sexual misconduct only if it occurs within their “programs or activities,” a designation that would exclude many cases.

The proposal is included in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rewrite of Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, which officials say is unfairly skewed against those accused of assault and goes beyond the intended scope of Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination in education. Some colleges had complained that the Obama rules were too complex and could be overly burdensome.

The AP asked the nation’s 10 largest public universities for several years of data on the location of sexual assaults. Out of eight that provided data, five had more reports from off campus than on school property: The University of Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Michigan State and the University of Central Florida.

Leaders of some schools say the proposal appears to let them decide whether to handle cases beyond their borders, but conflicting language has led some to believe they would be barred from it.

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