Louisiana higher ed officials concerned about lackluster sexual assault reporting

‘I think it is representative of a lack of trust,’ said the UL system president

By: - November 15, 2021 6:42 pm

LSU students protest in front of the Football Operations Center in — demanding stiffer punishment for athletic executives who sat on sexual misconduct allegations. (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

As Louisiana colleges continue to implement new state laws with stricter reporting requirements, higher education officials said that they were concerned about how few sexual assaults were reported last year.

Between LSU, Southeastern State University, and UL Lafayette — the three biggest public universities in Louisiana with over 68,000 students enrolled between them — just 12 cases of sexual assault were reported in 2020.

The low number of reported sexual assaults aren’t “representative of the prevalence of this issue on our campuses,” University of Louisiana system President Jim Henderson said during a hearing before the Louisiana Senate Select Commission on Women and Children Monday. 

“I think it is representative of a lack of trust” between victims of sexual assault and universities, Henderson said, and that the low reports of sexual assault also mean that there is “still a lack of awareness of how to report” cases among university employees.

When reports of inaction and negligence from LSU officials in the face of Title IX violations surfaced in March, the Husch Blackwell law firm found that LSU “had no clear policies in place about when employees are required to report sexual violence and sexual misconduct.”

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“We have to ensure that we’re improving the culture so that every student feels comfortable if there’s a situation to report,” Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said to the Illuminator.

In response to the sexual assault scandal at LSU, a new state law requires university employees to go through mandatory annual sexual assault reporting training. The Board of Regents will have updated “responsible employee training” ready for employees, staff and student leaders by the beginning of next fall, Reed said.

Jane Cassidy, LSU Interim Vice President for Civil Rights & Title IX, said LSU already updated their employee training to include the new mandatory reporting laws. “Our faculty and staff have until Dec. 31 to complete that,” she said.

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LSU expecting ‘a couple of more’ lawsuits to arise from sex misconduct scandal

Along with the three lawsuits against LSU following recent sexual misconduct investigations, LSU Counsel Winston DeCuir said, “we’re actually anticipating a couple of more” suits against the university.

“When you do an investigation like we did, and you make it public, invariably, the lawyers and other folks take advantage of it and file lawsuits,’ DeCuir said.

Sharon Lewis, the school’s associate director of football recruiting, has already filed a lawsuit against LSU accusing several officials of covering up alleged sex misconduct as well as racist and sexist behavior. In another lawsuit, seven current and former LSU students also alleged that LSU administrators failed them by mishandling sexual assault and dating violence incidents. 

A third suit alleges LSU did too little to address allegations of sexual harassment and assault against a French graduate student, even after learning he had been arrested on a rape charge in central Louisiana.

DeCuir said attorneys representing women bringing the cases are “trying to recruit folks from the investigation to file additional” lawsuits against the university.

DeCuir told the committee he plans on informing the legislature before the suits become public.

“The lawyer in me believes that we will probably have one or two more (suits) out of facts that arose in our investigation,” he said.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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