The High Cost of Sexual Assaults on College Campuses


It is estimated that one in five women are sexually assaulted during their years as college students. The U.S. Department of Education reported that 2013 saw over 5,000 forcible sexual offenses on universities and colleges, and a recent study provides evidence that the actual number of assaults may be six times higher.

In addition to the horrors that sexually assaulted students face, these crimes are placing a financial cost on university and college systems as well. Colleges with high profile sexual assaults also have to deal with such consequences as fewer applications, lowered alumni donations, and loss of funds provided by the Department of Education (DOE). For example, the University of Virginia saw its first decrease in 12 years in its number of applicants after a discredited story ran in Rolling Stone. And Dartmouth saw a fourteen percent drop in applications last year after students protested the school’s treatment of a campus sexual harassment and hazing.

Even more significant, universities facing scandals may lose funding from the DOE. Therefore some leaders claim universities are overcorrecting by unjustly expelling those accused. Faculty at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania submitted letters to their administrators denouncing new sexual violence policies utilizing a preponderance of the evidence standard in sexual violence incidents. This standard, required by the DOE, is substantially lower than beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard used by courts in criminal legal actions.

On June 8, 2015, student James Vivenzio filed a complaint in Pennsylvania state court against his fraternity and his school, Penn State. In it, he alleged Kappa Delta Rho possessed a Facebook page containing photos of drunk and unconscious nude women, some of whom looked like they were being sexually assaulted. In addition, the complaint states those pledging the fraternity were given alcohol and drugs, allegedly to facilitate sexual assault and abuse. The suit is also filed against the university for failure to act when Vivenzio reached out to an administrator about the incidents over a year before.

Although Vivenzio isn’t requesting a specific dollar amount, other sexual assault cases against colleges and universities have led to settlements and verdicts from thousands to millions of dollars. For example, in July 2014, the University of Connecticut paid one of the highest reported settlements for a sexual assault lawsuit, $1.3 million, which included $900,000 to a female student who claimed she was cut from the hockey team after being raped by a male hockey player.

In the last five years, the number of sexual assaults at college campuses has skyrocketed. Currently, 118 schools are under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for alleged civil rights violations of Title IX related to the handling of sexual assault incidents. At a time when resources have never been harder to raise, universities are diverting millions from education to fund settlements and defend lawsuits. This epidemic is leading schools of higher education to explore a number of difficult issues: how to define consent, how to punish those responsible, and how to measure the reliability of the accusers. At Penn State, a sexual assault and harassment task force developed a 267-page report outlining eighteen recommendations, including enhancing resources at the university’s smaller campuses and disseminating a campus climate sexual assault survey.

At the same time, some government leaders believe schools are hiding or minimizing assaults in an attempt to avoid scandal. These beliefs are based on a recent study compiled by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight finding 41 percent of colleges have not conducted any investigations of sexual violence in the past five years. Therefore, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced the Campus Accountability & Safety Act in February. If passed, the law would fine colleges and universities up to $150,000 for failure to submit detailed sexual violence reports. In addition, universities that refuse to act in accordance with the legislation could be fined up to one percent of the school’s operating budget.

Recently, United Educators, the higher education insurance company, began offering insurance to cover sexual assault payouts and this appears to have become a disturbingly necessary cost of “doing business.” Between 2006–10, the company has paid out $36 million on behalf of its 1,200 member universities. Seventy-two percent of the settlements were provided to parties suing the schools due to sexual assault incidents.

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Wisconsin’s High Rate of Incarceration Taken Up by Grassroots Groups


Although the state of Wisconsin has a population similar to Minnesota, its prison population is roughly double. This translates into one in thirty-nine people, or 88,920, who are under the supervision of the state’s Department of Corrections. These responsibilities lead to a department budget of $1,290,784,000, which is expected to grow to $2.5 billion by 2019. These expenses contribute to a state budget deficit of two billion dollars. The state’s activities are increasingly under a microscope, as its governor prepares for a run for president.

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is expected to announce his presidential campaign next month. In preparation, he and other presidential contenders spoke at a forum hosted by Florida governor Rick Scott. In his speech, Walker discussed the country’s staggering prison population and highlighted his record handling nonviolent criminals. Specifically, he stated, “In our state, we have relatively few [people incarcerated for committing nonviolent offenses] compared to the federal government.” Then, Walker added, “The challenges in terms of people being incarcerated for relatively low offenses is not a significant issue in the state of Wisconsin.”

Sadly, according to many nonprofit organizations across the state, his record, unlike that of other presidential candidates including Ran Paul and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, does not completely match his declarations. Wisconsin’s prison population has more than tripled since the 1990s and its efforts are not cheap. In fact, theDepartment of Corrections budget of $2.315 billion is larger than the university system’s budget of $2.247 billion.

In addition, the state’s incarceration rate for minorities is much larger than all other states. According to one of the state’s largest newspapers, 12.8 percent, or one out of eight African American men between the ages of 18–64 are incarcerated. This rate is nearly double of the nation as a whole, as well as significantly higher than Oklahoma, which incarcerates the second-highest percentage, 9.7 percent. In the county with the largest population, Milwaukee County, over half of African American men in their thirties have served time in state prison.

One of the main reasons is the state’s truth-in-sentencing law introduced by then-legislator Walker. It took effect in December 31, 1999, and is one of the toughest in the nation. It requires all offenders regardless of their crime to serve every day of their sentence. Many other states have truth-in-sentencing laws, but they only apply toviolent crimes.

Another factor is the large number of people re-incarcerated after violating their parole. In 2013, the state sent 8,000 people to prison, and more than half were incarcerated because they broke a rule of their probation. Overall, the state spends more than $100 million a year housing people who violated their parole requirements. According to Mark Rice, who chairs a revocation workgroup for the criminal justicereform organization WISDOM, these offenses include using a computer or cellphone without authorization, entering a bar, borrowing money, or crossing county lines.

WISDOM is a grassroots organization of mostly religious congregations of many denominations advocating on social justice issues. About 160 congregations practicing nineteen different religious traditions participate in the group’s activities. One of their campaigns is 11×15, which fights for reducing the state’s prison population by half to 11,000 by the end of 2015 through the funding of alternatives to incarceration.

Governor Walker has focused resources on alternatives to incarceration that include day reporting centers and mental health and drug courts. These efforts have decreased the number of people incarcerated. Data from the Department of Corrections calculated the state’s recidivism rate of 14.3 percent in 2011—almost half the rate in 2009 of 30.1 percent.

Sadly, even if Wisconsin were able to achieve WISDOM’s goal of 11,000 by 2015, the state would still have a higher incarceration rate than the State of Minnesota.

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The Next Recycling Frontier: Prescription Drugs


A 2012 study by the Commonwealth Fund entitled Insuring the Future discusses the link between poverty and healthcare coverage. It found, among many other things, that about one in four American adults, or about 50 million people, have neglected to fill a prescription due to cost. Many experience dangerous conditions due to their inability to afford these essential drugs. Thirty-eight states have laws allowing prescription drugs left over after a person dies or is otherwise unable to use the drugs to be provided to low-income people who cannot afford medicine. These programs cost a few thousand dollars, but recycle millions of dollars worth of lifesaving medications.

Tulsa County in Oklahoma began its drug-recycling program in September 2004. The state was one of the first to develop a program to capture unopened previously prescribed drugs from large institutions including nursing homes. It utilizes twenty-two retired doctors to travel to sixty-eight long-term care facilities collecting the medications for the county run pharmacy. The prescription drugs picked up are dispersed free of charge to low-income citizens of the county. Over the past eleven years the program has filed 172,149 prescriptions worth $16.8 million dollars. Incredibly, the cost of the program over the same period was less than $6,000.

In 1997, Georgia was the first state to create a prescription drug recycling program. In the eighteen years since that time, thirty-seven other states have created similar programs. These programs are lifelines for low-income residents, especially seniors. Seniors take an average of four to five medications a week, and one in five report cutting back on food, heat, or other necessities to afford their prescription drugs. Those that cut back on their medications, including those with cardiovascular disease, can experience serious conditions—for example, strokes or non-fatal heart attacks.

While some states and counties created their own programs, others utilize nonprofit organizations to deliver and provide the medications. SIRUM (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine), located in California, has a staff of five and a budget of less than $200,000. The nonprofit was started by three Stanford graduates in 2005; in 2014, they won the prestigious Grinnell prize for work related to social justice. SIRUM uses a patent-pending computer program to match 200 organizations with unused prescriptions to a dozen county-owned and federally-qualified health centers andclinics around the nation. The donating organizations pay nothing to access the program, letting them save the funds they once used to destroy the drugs. Recipient programs with means pay a membership fee equal to twenty-five percent of the value of the medications received. In the years since it opened, the program has expedited the transfer of $3.7 million worth of prescription drugs to 35,000 patients.

Lincoln-Glen, a nursing home in California, takes part in the program. Once a quarter, Deane Kirchner, the director of nursing, spends less than an hour logging and packaging the prescriptions for shipping. Throughout the year, the 50–75 bed facilitytypically donates about $6,000 in medications at a cost of $40. The recipient is the Santa Clara County Public Health Pharmacy, who distributes the prescriptions countywide based on need.

The largest state-run program is the Iowa Prescription Drug Corporation. In Iowa, the drugs come from the drug manufacturers and pharmacies themselves. They maintain prescription safety stocks to avoid shortfalls. About three percent of drugs worth 270 billion reach their expiration dates and are destroyed. The budget of the nonprofit organization’s program distributing the drugs is $500,000. In the eight years it has been in existence, it has delivered $13 million worth of drugs to 52,000 low-income patients.

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