Campuses report 901 cases of sexual misconduct

Just 136 were investigated by law enforcement

IN 2020, there were 901 reports of sexual misconduct on Massachusetts college campuses, of which two-thirds involved allegations between students, according to a new report released by the Department of Higher Education.

In January 2021, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law aimed at addressing sexual violence on college campuses. The law required campuses to provide annual reporting on sexual misconduct. The first data collected under that new law was released in a report filed with the Legislature Monday.

The report found that there were 602 allegations made by a student against a student, and another 138 allegations made by a student against an employee. Another 76 involved reports made by an employee about another employee. The rest involved anonymous reports or reports made by employees against students.

Just 136 of the reports were investigated by a law enforcement agency. Most of those – 108 – were student against student allegations.

Allegations may also be investigated internally by the schools, regardless of whether law enforcement gets involved. In internal investigations, 99 students and 44 employees were found responsible for violating school policies on sexual misconduct. There were 70 students and 53 employees found not responsible for violating school policies.

There were 101 students and 45 staff who faced disciplinary actions for violating sexual misconduct policies. (The number of disciplinary actions could be greater than the number of those found responsible if an investigation was concluded in 2019 and discipline meted out in 2020 or if additional people were punished for being involved in an incident who did not violate the sexual misconduct policy.)

The report covered public and private colleges, which collectively employed more than 131,000 staff and had 592,000 students enrolled.

Naomi Shatz, an attorney with Zalkind, Duncan, and Bernstein who represents students and faculty on both sides of sexual misconduct cases, said it is important to have this data to better understand what schools are seeing and doing. But she cautioned that there are major caveats to the data.

First, the reported number of incidents is likely lower than the number that actually occur, since many sexual assaults are not reported.

Second, data about investigations does not necessarily reflect the resolution of every case. Federal laws changed in 2020 to let schools engage in informal resolutions of sexual misconduct cases. So it is possible that even if a formal complaint is lodged, the parties will agree to a deal to resolve the allegation informally without a formal decision being reached as to whether the accused party is responsible.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Shatz said there is also no way to draw conclusions about how schools are handling complaints based on the number of people found responsible or not, since there is no information about what the allegations are or how strong the evidence is. There is also no way to know what occurred in the cases that never made it to final adjudication and if schools are improperly dismissing cases.

“It’s some data but it’s not super-illuminating as to what’s actually happening on the ground,” Shatz said.