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55 US schools face federal sex assault probes

WASHINGTON--From huge state universities to small colleges and the Ivy League, 55 schools across America are facing federal investigation for the way they handle sexual abuse allegations by their students.

For the first time, the Education Department revealed its list of colleges under investigation on Thursday — though no details of the complaints — as the Obama administration sought to bring more openness to the issue of sexual violence on and around the nation's campuses.

The schools range from public universities, including Ohio State, the University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State, to private schools including Knox College in Illinois, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Catholic University of America in the District of Columbia. Ivy League schools including Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth are also on the list.

The government emphasized the list was about investigations of complaints, not judgments. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said there was “absolutely zero presumption” of guilt.

Few details of individual cases are known, but some are. One, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, involves allegations of mishandling of a matter involving a football player. The investigation began after federal authorities received complaints related to the expulsion of Brendan Gibbons, a former placekicker.

A student group examined the school's student sexual misconduct policy and last month determined the university failed to explain a years-long delay between the alleged incident and Gibbons' expulsion in December. Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the university has been “fully cooperating.”

Schools on the list, for the most part, were unwilling to talk about specific incidents but said they have been working with the federal department to be more responsive to student complaints.

“We are hopeful at the end of this there will be a resolution that will strengthen our internal processes and result in a safer community,” said Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson. “There's always something we can learn and ways to get better.”

Some of the investigations go as far back as 2010. Three universities — Michigan State, Wittenberg in Ohio and Southern Methodist in Texas — face more than one.

The Obama administration's effort to bring more attention to the issue of sexual assaults is not limited to colleges.

Separately on Thursday, the Pentagon said that reports of assaults by members of the military have risen 50 percent since the beginning of a campaign to persuade more victims to come forward. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he is ordering six initiatives to deal with sexual assaults, including efforts to get more male victims to speak up.

The college investigations are done under Title IX of a U.S. law, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees girls and women 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.

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