ASU among schools in US federal sex assault investigation

TEMPE, AZ - Arizona State University is among the schools facing a Title IX investigation over the handling of sexual abuse complaints, the U.S. Education Department said Thursday.

Officials released the names of 55 colleges and universities being investigated.

ASU spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said the school takes all Title IX sexual misconduct complaints very seriously and delivers appropriate punishment if violations are found.

"The underlying matter leading to the university's appearance on this list was handled consistent with these standards," Keeler said.

Keeler did not disclose any details about the incident that led to the investigation. Officials from the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights visited the campus in September to gather information but have not contacted the school since, Keeler said.

"When ASU was informed" by the Education Department "that it had received a complaint, the university promptly provided all relevant information to the agency," Keeler said.

The release comes two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education.

The Education Department says it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request. The campuses listed include large public universities such as ASU to private schools such as Knox College in Illinois and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Ivy League schools Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list.

Catherine E. Lhamon, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said a school's appearance on the list does not mean it has done anything wrong but there is an ongoing investigation.

"We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue," Lhamon said in a statement.

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.

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 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.

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