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May 01, 2014 04:48 PM EDT

Education Department Releases List of 55 Schools Under Investigation for Title IX and Clery Act Complaints


The U.S. Education Department (ED) has released a list of 55 major colleges under an open investigation for complaints of mishandling sexual assault cases.

The Huffington Post had previously released a list of schools under federal investigation, but this is the first time the ED has publicly disclosed the schools. The ED's Office of Civil Rights handles the investigation when a complaint is filed alleging a Title IX or Clery Act violation against the school.

CLICK HERE to see the list.

Title IX is a federal gender equity law designed to prohibit sexual discrimination and the Clery Act requires a school to publish annual transparency reports of campus crimes. Sexual assault is considered a sexually discriminatory crime and therefore Title IX requires schools to perform an adequate investigation when a complaint arises. Schools can commit a Clery Act violation by underreporting various crimes to protect their reputation.

"We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights," Catherine E. Lhamon, ED secretary for civil rights, said in a statement, according to CNN. "We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue. I also want to make it clear that a college or university's appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law."

President Obama announced the formation of a task force earlier this year that would make recommendations for schools to adopt in order to curb sexual assault on campus. Those recommendations were released earlier this week in a report called "Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault." The White House has also launched NotAlone.gov, a website geared toward providing information and support.

The HP has spoken to countless students and alum who have filed complaints with the OCR against their school. Many of who have become advocates for more awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. Andrea Pino, a complainant against UNC - Chapel Hill and End Rape on Campus co-founder, said she was encouraged by the federal government's actions.

"It's a great first step towards transparency, but we hope that there will be an increased effort on behalf of the OCR to also support those that are filing complaints," she told the HP. "Announcing an investigation can open survivors to retaliation, and it's important that the OCR also take emphasis on providing survivors an option to opt out of having their investigation announced if it could endanger them, especially in small institutions where anonymity is less of an option."

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