Read the report

To see the full White House report that contains lists of suggested sex assault policies, visit postandcourier.com.

Two years after she said she was sexually assaulted in her dormitory bed, a College of Charleston junior still struggles with schoolwork.

She still suffers from depression. She still sees a psychologist. She still cries sometimes. She still remembers that night.

But the school's handling of the situation, she said, worsened her ordeal.

Campus police officers, she said, blamed her for some of what happened. She had been drinking that night. A charge against the alleged perpetrator was dropped because of what authorities called shortcomings in evidence and her credibility.

She felt alone.

School officials said then that they had provided her with ample assistance. No policy changes were needed, they said.

But the college said it will consider new recommendations for cases like hers that were detailed last week in a White House report titled "Not Alone."

The task force study calls for annual training on how to handle assaults, surveys to examine efforts already in place, investigations that are not emotionally harmful to victims and penalties against colleges that fail to disclose certain information. It also suggested that colleges sign agreements with local law agencies about coordinating on criminal probes.

But to the college junior's mother, the ideas fell short. She instead renewed a call echoed by other victims for a law requiring an independent police force to control such criminal investigations.

"It's going to take more than this," the mother said. The Post and Courier does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault or their relatives. "It's going to take legislators to see what's happening and pass a law. They have to do more."

Local college officials said the suggestions could improve programs they already have. They're also seeing greater involvement from outside law agencies during criminal investigations, they said.

A committee at the College of Charleston is reviewing the study, said Kimberly Gertner, director of the school's Office of Human Relations and Minority Affairs. She said the college recently completed a primary provision: a "climate" survey asking students and employees about the school's handling of misconduct. The results were not yet available, she said.

"We're pleased to see an increased focus on these important issues on a national level," Gertner said. "We already have implemented many of these best practices."

At The Citadel, Janet Shealy has been encouraged by surveys about how assault reports have been handled, she said. Shealy, the school's sexual assault response coordinator, also said the statistics were not readily available.

"There's always room to improve," she said, "but we already do most of what the White House expects colleges to do."

After the report's release last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced investigations into 55 colleges and universities nationwide for their handling of sex assaults. No South Carolina schools were on the list. The department indicated that others could come under scrutiny.

'Support and justice'

At the College of Charleston, complaints in recent years about its handling of assault reports have focused on the school's own police force.

Alleged victims and their families have contended that the school's Public Safety Department doesn't have the expertise and resources to properly conduct criminal probes. The Post and Courier first reported on the issue in late 2012.

Campus officers took over the investigations five years ago after state lawmakers passed the Jessica Horton Act, which the college said required it to lead the criminal probes and get help from the State Law Enforcement Division. The Charleston Police Department had handled the cases before the new law.

The victims and their relatives sensed that the campus police were concerned with guarding the school's image, they said. They included a varsity softball player who accused four members of the school's baseball team of a dorm-room assault - an investigation in which SLED played only a small role.

Their plight prompted Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, to draft a bill clarifying the law. The act's intent was just the opposite, he said: to get outside agencies involved, not to shut them out. The bill has gotten nowhere.

The White House study hit on the topic.

By June, the task force said it would come up with a sample "memorandum of understanding" between schools and police departments. The memo "can help open lines of communication" and "make investigations and prosecutions more efficient," it said.

"The memo could be a way to clear up any confusion they have as a result of their interpretation of the law," Sheheen, who is running for governor, said last week.

Gertner said the College of Charleston has boosted its collaboration with SLED. The two discussed best practices during a recent meeting, she said.

"SLED is playing a rather large role for the criminal piece," said Gertner, who has worked at the college for a year. "During my tenure, this issue in general has been without question an area of increased dedication of resources."

At The Citadel, Shealy said, whether campus officers or the city police investigate alleged assaults depends on the complaint.

'Leg to stand on'

During her college years, one in five female students is sexually assaulted. The White House cited the statistic in stressing what should be the focus of a school's assault response: the victim.

The report called for "bystander" training, or efforts that teach students and employees how to prevent an assault or to help a victim cope.

Sophomores at The Citadel have received such teaching, Shealy said.

The U.S. Department of Justice also was tasked with devising a training program for campus officials who investigate the cases and dish out administrative penalties. Federal law requires annual training for such officials.

Gertner said first responders at the College of Charleston attended training in February. Other officials, such as coaches and resident assistants, undergo training yearly, she said.

Another key component of the report - offering outside counseling - already is in place at the College of Charleston and The Citadel, which coordinate with People Against Rape, school officials said.

The task force also came up with sample protocols for the reporting of assaults and for schools to maintain a victim's confidentiality. Schools should be up-front about the process and how emotionally taxing and humiliating students' options could be, it said.

"In all cases, the school must respond," the report said. "When a student wants the school to take action against an offender - or to change dorms or working arrangements - the school must take the allegation seriously and not dissuade a report or otherwise keep the survivor's story under wraps."

At the College of Charleston, the reporting options are laid out on the school's Gender Violence Awareness and Prevention Network webpage, Gertner said.

At The Citadel, Shealy said she answers a cellphone that students call to voice their concerns or to ask questions. The college also has used surveys.

Statistics gathered through such surveys could help colleges realize that sexual assault is a problem for them, said Rebecca Williams-Agee, director of prevention and education for the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Without naming schools, Williams-Agee said the issue isn't a priority for many in South Carolina.

"The surveys will give these colleges a leg to stand on when it comes to change," she said. "It's a kind of thing that unless it's got meat behind it, it's not going to be enforced."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.