March 7, 2013

Three years after investigation, Obama signs campus sexual assault bill

President Obama signed the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act today, as part of the Violence Against Women Act.

It’s been three years since the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism published an investigation that found sexual assaults remain seriously underreported and many women still face barriers to notifying authorities at University of Wisconsin campuses.

The report included the account of Abby Panozzo, who took the unusual step of pressing charges against the man who she said trapped her in a room and assaulted her.

It also examined accusations by victim advocate Laura Dunn, who said her assault by two UW-Madison athletes in 2004 was never investigated by police.

And it explored the story of a woman who went by just Becca, who said she was sexually assaulted twice but — like most women — never reported it because, she said, “I didn’t expect to be treated well by the system.”

Our February 2010 project, Suffering in Silence, prompted University of Wisconsin officials to make sexual assault reports more accessible.

The reporting was produced with support and collaboration from the Center for Public Integrity, which led a nationwide, yearlong investigation into campus sexual assaults that also included NPR, Investigate West, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network and Texas Watchdog.

The new bill addresses issues raised by the collaborative investigation, including a new requirement that schools must provide accused perpetrators and alleged victims the same rights during disciplinary proceedings.

“It’s pretty phenomenal for any reporter to see an investigative piece of his or hers help move federal law,” Center for Public Integrity reporter Kristen Lombardi said in an email.

“I only hope that the law does what its proponents say, which is to change the culture of sexual violence on college campuses, so that reporters don’t have to keep writing about these very sad cases.”

Joseph Shapiro’s March 6 report on NPR: Law targets sexual violence on college campuses