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​Combating the scourge of sexual assault

According to the U.S. Justice Department, one in five college women will experience some kind of sexual assault while at school
Are U.S. universities plagued by an epidemic of campus assaults? 08:36

This Spring, the Association of American Universities plans to question 800,000 college students about the problem of sexual assault on campus. As we're about to hear from one of the leading women in the United States Senate, it's complicated -- and finding a fair system for dealing with it isn't simple, either. Our Cover Story is reported now by Tracy Smith:

If you want to see what resilience looks like, here are a few pictures. These women say they are all survivors of sexual assault. They prefer the term survivors.

On the signs are the words that still haunt them: quotes from their attackers.

Grace Brown/Project Unbreakable

Twenty-two-year-old Grace Brown came up with the idea of Project Unbreakable three years ago to give survivors a moment of closure -- captured forever in a photo.

"I started this project thinking it be maybe 10 people involved," she said, "and suddenly it exploded.

"I tell them to write down whatever they want to let go of the most," said Brown. "I wanted something that would stick."

And those words? "They stick," she said.

And it looks like she won't run out of subjects any time soon.

Government figures show that women between the ages of 18 and 24 are the most likely targets of rape and sexual assault.

Exact numbers are hard to come by since many of these cases go unreported, but campus rape has become an all-too-frequent news story.

In November, a now-discredited article in Rolling Stone roiled the University of Virginia with a tale of an alleged gang rape at a fraternity party. But while much of it has been called into question, it's helped fuel a national conversation about sexual assault on campus.

The White House joined in last Fall with the "It's On Us" campaign.

From Project Unbreakable. Grace Brown

The bad news, says Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., "is that there's probably more of it because there is a much different sexual climate on campuses than there was 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

"It's complicated -- that's why you can't hope to find justice in every case. What you can do is try to put up systems that allow justice to occur. This is difficult, difficult stuff."

And that's putting it mildly: A lot of sexual assaults are never reported, and victims who do come forward aren't always comfortable going to police. So in many cases, it's up to the school to sort out what happened, and how to handle it.

Sarah Gilchriese, now a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder, says she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student in February 2013.

"How often do you think about what happened that night?" asked Smith.

"I think about it every day," Gilchriese replied.

"Do you remember details of the night?"


"Did you say no?"


"You say that emphatically. Why do you say that so emphatically?"

"I told him to stop. I told him I didn't want to do it, multiple times."

"And yet . . ."

"He took advantage of me."

"In your heart of hearts, do you think he realized that what he was doing was wrong?"

"Absolutely not. Nope," said Gilchriese. "The way he acted, I feel like he felt he was entitled to my body."

She says her assailant (who did not respond to our repeated calls and emails) was actually a friend from the school's climbing club, and that, in the hours before the assault, they'd both been drinking.

"If I was 100 percent sober, I would have fought back a lot more," said Gilchriese. "But I don't blame myself for it, because I know that I did what I could have in the moment."

"You don't blame yourself?"

"Absolutely not, no. I did what I could at that moment."

"What do you mean?"

"Now, because I'm sober and coherent, I could fight. But because I was swimming in intoxication, it was difficult. There was no intimacy involved at all. I had my shirt on the entire time. It was not intimate at all. It was very much straight sex. Rape is rape, that's what it was. It wasn't even sex.

"The morning after, I accidentally left my hat at his house. So I asked him to come meet me outside in a public, lit place. I said, 'I was not comfortable with what happened. I did not consent to this.' And his response was that I should just forget about it and get over it."

But she didn't get over it:

She went to the police, and they told her there wasn't enough evidence to proceed.

The school did find her assailant guilty of non-consensual sex, and suspended him. But it took the university a month to actually kick him off campus. So Sarah Gilchriese found a different way to get the school's attention.

It turns out the same Title IX language that bans discrimination on the playing field also bans sexual harassment at schools.

Senator Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., says using Title IX to hold colleges accountable is the "federal hook."

"Colleges are responsible for maintaining a safe environment," Gillibrand told Smith. "They are responsible under Title IX to make sure every kid at that campus can get a good education. And where these colleges are failing is, because they're not taking sexual assault and rape as the crime that it is and not holding rapists and perpetrators accountable, these men and women do not feel safe. And so they are obligated to change how they do business."

The University of Colorado Boulder is one of nearly a hundred colleges and universities now under investigation for possible violations of Title IX.

In Sarah's case, the school denied liability, but paid her the equivalent of a year's tuition -- $32,500.

When asked if the payment was an admission of having mishandled her case on the part of the school, CU-Boulder's Title IX coordinator Valerie Simons said, "I can't talk about any individual case because of confidentiality. I can say that we want to make sure that, for her case, for any case before now, coming up, is we want to do everything we can to eliminate sexual assault on this campus, and that is my mission."

The school has even taken a page from the White House and made its own "It's On Us" video:

But now, CU-Boulder is facing yet another Title IX complaint -- from a MALE student who says the school unfairly convicted him of sexual assault.

New York attorney Andrew Miltenberg represents him, and more than two dozen other men, whom he says were victims of a rush to judgment.

Smith asked, "Do you think there's been an over-correction?"

"I think it's beyond an over-correction," replied Miltenberg. "Things are proceeding too fast, and without any real protections to the accused."

"Are you saying that most of these young men are presumed guilty even before the process starts?"

"That is exactly what I am saying," said Miltenberg.

To help avoid trouble in the first place, California's new Affirmative Consent Law says men and women both have to give a clear, sober "yes" before anything can happen.

Ohio State University

And schools like Ohio State University are posting messages like the one at left online and on campus.

For his clients, Andrew Miltenberg has a message of his own:

"Parents constantly ask me, 'What should I tell my son to do when he's at college?'"

His advice: "Don't be alone in a room with a young lady."

Senator Gillibrand says she doesn't want to see injustice on either end.

"We don't want to hold an innocent young man accountable for a crime he didn't commit any more than we want a rape victim to not have a place to report that crime."

Smith asked, "Do you think there's been an over-correction?"

"Not at all," said Gillibrand. "I think we have a long way to go."

For her, the solution is a bill she sponsored with McCaskill and several Republicans, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act.

Among other things, it would require colleges to make it easier for victims to come forward, and fine schools that didn't comply.

"I believe this'll be something we will actually get done in this Congress, this year," said Gillibrand.

And if that happens, maybe students will have a little more faith in their schools. Maybe Sarah Gilchriese will feel like she made a difference.

And maybe Grace Brown won't have people lining up for portraits.

"What gives me hope," said Brown, "is the amount of people who are starting to talk about sexual assault. All of these people -- in my personal life or people in general -- are sort of coming out of the woodwork and saying, 'This needs to stop.'"

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