Pa. College Improves Handling of Sex Assaults

Swarthmore College has implemented several strategies to improve its handling of alleged sexual assaults and harassment, and will continue to follow recommendations from an outside consultant to create a safer campus, President Rebecca Chopp said Thursday.

Among other efforts, the school plans to expand education and prevention efforts; establish a confidential peer support group; better track and analyze reported offenses; and publish an annual report summarizing how cases are handled, Chopp wrote in a letter to the campus community.

``Change does not occur in a vacuum, and our willingness to confront these tough issues and change our behavior, policies and culture is surely contributing to a broader societal change,'' she said.

Chopp's comments came as she released a consultant's final report examining the school's policies and procedures on sexual misconduct. The consultant was hired last spring in part due to student complaints about how Swarthmore treats accusers in sex assault cases.

A preliminary report released in July led campus officials to hold more than 50 training sessions on federal crime reporting requirements and to hire several staff members, including an advocate for victims of sexual violence.

President Barack Obama addressed the broader issue of U.S. college sexual assaults last week after a White House report found a stunning prevalence of rape on campuses, with 1 in 5 female students assaulted while only 1 in 8 student victims report it.

Obama created a task force charged with recommending how colleges can prevent and respond to campus rapes; how to increase public awareness of each school's track record; and ways to hold schools accountable if they don't confront the problem.

Meanwhile, Swarthmore is also cooperating with an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

The probe, which the college acknowledged in July, stems from a complaint filed by students that alleges the school violated the Clery Act, which requires colleges to report crime on campus, and Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination.

One of the students who filed the complaint last year did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.

Swarthmore, an elite liberal arts school, serves about 1,500 students outside Philadelphia.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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