Sen. Claire McCaskill prepares to take on sexual assault on campus

After working to pass a series of reforms to the way the military handles sexual assault, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has set her sights on addressing the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.

"We've accomplished a long list of historic and sweeping reforms in the military that give victims much more power and deference, that give them more protection and information. And I see a lot of similarities on college campuses in terms of a closed cultural environment where victims are so worried about how they're going to be viewed if they come out of the shadows," McCaskill said in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

The Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, which McCaskill chairs, sent a survey to 350 college and university presidents around the country to gauge how the schools handle rapes and sexual assault on campus. She is focusing in particular on how those crimes are reported and investigated and how students are notified about the services available to them.

McCaskill said that she knows from her experience as a prosecutor that she knows there can be a conflict between university and local law enforcement in dealing with sexual assault cases, and that the laws governing the matter are complicated.

"I think it's time we get a really good idea of what's going on, on all of these campuses across the country. That's what this survey is for. Then we'll take the next steps, which would be stakeholder roundtables, hearings, and then ultimately legislation," she said.

To improve reporting of sexual assaults, McCaskill said it's important to make young people understand that, "you don't have to have perfect judgment to be the victim of a felony."

"If you are passed out drunk, or if there is a gun to your head, it is the same crime. It is a crime where there is not consent. It is a felony. And we need to start making sure victims understand that so they don't do the self-blame," she said.

The military reforms she worked on have led to a 50 percent increase in the reporting of sexual assaults in the military, McCaskill said, and she hopes she can see a similar increase on college campuses.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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