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Students say colleges ignore sexual assault law

Emerson College student Sarah Tedesco filed a federal complaint when the school failed to properly investigate her claim that she had been sexually assaulted
Some college sex assault victims not getting help law requires 02:32

NEW YORK -- This week, the White House said it is reminding colleges of their obligations to students who are victims of sexual assault. Some young victims of rape may not reach out to police, so federal law requires colleges to help -- but some students feel they've been abandoned.

Sex assault by the numbers: Project helps survivors tell stories 01:17
Sarah Tedesco was two months into her freshman year at Emerson College in Boston when she was raped by a student who lived in her dorm.

"You go and report it to an administrator and they victim blame and they ask you, 'What were you wearing? Why were you at an off-campus party?'" Tedesco says. "I'm here trying to come forward and I want you to be a little more compassionate with me. You're not guided through this process."

Tedesco says she was told "not to make a big deal out of my assault."

The school conducted a brief investigation and dismissed the case, though Tedesco was never granted a hearing. That led her, along with four other assault victims at Emerson, to file a complaint with the Department of Education.

Emerson is now one of 51 schools under investigation for violating Title IX, a federal law that requires schools to advise victims of their rights, conduct an investigation and ensure victims' safety.

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Nationally, students have been protesting, saying schools are ignoring the rules.

Sarah Tedesco CBS News
"I was never told that I should hire a lawyer, so I never did," Tedesco says. "I was never told what Title IX was. I didn't know I had any rights."

"I think it's one of the ways that the federal government is lacking -- in enforcement," says Colby Bruno, who represents hundreds of assault victims and works with universities to educate them on Title IX. "If a school doesn't have a watchdog, then the school is going to do what they want behind closed doors."

Asked to differentiate between schools that get it right and schools that don't, Bruno says, "The schools pay attention -- they pay attention to what students say, they pay attention to what the numbers say, they pay attention to what their federal requirements are."

Colby Bruno CBS News
"It takes a strong university to take a look at that and say, 'OK, we're going to do something about that. We're going to fix it,'" Bruno adds.

Tedesco just finished her sophomore year and is now advocating for other survivors.

"That's not something that you should be feeling when you're 18 years old," she says. "You just moved into college, and you should be happy and focusing on your future and not sitting in a dorm room crying at night because nobody is listening to you."

Emerson College told CBS News it cannot comment on Tedesco's case or the Title IX complaint for legal and privacy reasons. However, in a written statement, Emerson said it's been "working diligently to expand our education and sex assault prevention programs." The school has recently hired a sex assault response advocate on campus.

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