Senator Morrell initiates task force to stop sexual assault

Madeleine Swanstrom, Staff Reporter

State senator J.P. Morrell, a Tulane Law School graduate, commissioned a task force to address sexual assaults on Louisiana public college campuses after a 500-page report found holes in the state’s system.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) attracted national attention when she requested a comprehensive report on sexual assault cases in higher education. The national report, released in July, exposed how many institutions of higher education currently fail to prevent and investigate sexual assault and rape on university campuses. 

“When I read the McCaskill study, the first thing that ran through my head was ‘I’m going to have to homeschool my daughter for college,’” Morrell said.

In July, Morrell requested a full report on the number and nature of reported sexual crimes at Louisiana public university campuses between 2009 and 2013. He also asked that the report include each university’s policy regarding sexual assault. 

The Board of Regents released a report on Sept. 15 in accordance with Morrell’s request. 

The main takeaway from the report was that “there was a completely inconsistent policy on sexual assault and how it was investigated” at public universities in Louisiana, Morrell said. 

“Though some of [the policies] were pretty good, most were terrible, but none was necessarily wrong because there was no baseline to judge them against,” Morrell explained.

Some universities did not provide numbers for the report, which also distressed Morrell.

“It either meant that they were being evasive or that they didn’t record [the number of sexual assault cases],” Morrell said. 

Concerned with many of the findings in the report, Morrell now heads a group committed to ensuring a standard policy toward sexual assault on university campuses. Morrell participated in a panel at Tulane Hillel on Nov. 12 called Rape 101, which discussed the issue of sexual assault on university campuses.

“At the very least, we are trying to establish the best practice: What happens when an individual reports a sexual assault,” Morrell said. “What are the university’s obligations? What services do they need to provide?”

Though McCaskill and others are trying to push legislation regarding sexual assault policies at universities at the national level, Morrell sees it as the state’s responsibility to address the issue. He would like to see a federal policy implemented, but he is skeptical of Congress passing such a package.

The Clery Act requires universities to report certain types of crime that occur on campus, but it does not require universities to report a sexual assault case unless both students were present on campus at the time of the encounter. This can mean that sexual assaults that occur in off-campus housing like homes, apartment buildings or Greek life housing could be excluded.

The other specific policy Morrell would like to see introduced is a standardized education program for incoming freshmen.

“In talking to a lot of groups thus far many people don’t understand that if you have sex with an intoxicated person, it’s simple rape,” Morrell said. 

Morrell’s continued investment in improving university sexual assault policy stems from his initial realization that his daughter is deeply affected by this issue. 

“That instinctual knee-jerk reaction got me looking into the issue, and as I dug into the issue, it just seemed to get more and more horrifying, which gets you more deeply rooted to try and solve it,” Morrell said.