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Fifty-five colleges under investigation over handling of sexual violence complaints

By Jason Hanna, Emanuella Grinberg and Eliott C. McLaughlin CNN | 5/2/2014, 1:01 p.m.

Rape is a longstanding issue on college campuses, but the latest movement, led by student activists, survivors and faculty, recasts sexual violence as a cultural problem on campuses nationwide -- not just a series of isolated incidents. Students are taking matters into their own hands, filing complaints en masse and speaking out publicly.

They've flocked to advocacy groups such as End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX, which sprang from grassroots activism around university handling -- or mishandling -- of sexual violence.

Leslie Gomez, a Pennsylvania attorney and former prosecutor who has worked as a sexual assault policy consultant for Occidental College, Grinnell College and other schools, told CNN that from one campus to the next, the concerns are mostly the same: lack of clarity, students being mistreated, complex procedures and insufficient training among those leading the processes.

After she grew displeased with how campus and local authorities handled her case, Espinosa reached out to End Rape on Campus, and a member of the group helped her file a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights.

"I'm not sure I would've come forward if all these people hadn't done it before me," Espinosa said. "I needed the validation. I needed someone to confirm, 'You're right. You're not blowing things out of proportion.' ... It was a relief to hear someone tell me, 'You have a case, and they shouldn't treat you this way.' "

In Thursday's announcement, the Department of Education said releasing its list "advances a key goal of President Obama's White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to bring more transparency to the federal government's enforcement activities around this issue."

The department also released new guidance this week outlining federally funded schools' responsibilities to address sexual violence and other forms of discrimination. All schools -- from K-12 to universities -- must comply with Title IX or risk losing funding and Justice Department action.

"Under federal law, sexual violence refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person's will or where a person is incapable of giving consent -- including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse and sexual coercion," the statement said.

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