For students reporting sex attacks, imperfect justice
At Illinois State University, 13 students have been disciplined for sexual misconduct violations under the Code of Student Conduct since 2005. Two students were disciplined since mid-May — one who exposed himself to a female student and another who tried to get in bed with a student in an off-campus apartment.

Discipline at ISU ranges from probation to dismissal depending on the student's disciplinary history, the severity of the incident and what the victim would like to happen. The student who exposed himself, for example, was put on probation and has to complete an alcohol education program and write a letter of apology, university spokesman Jay Groves said.

McLean County State's Attorney Bill Yoder, whose jurisdiction includes Illinois State, said sexual-offense cases "should be pushed toward criminal prosecution whenever the facts support it." He's concerned victims are steered toward pursuing the disciplinary route instead.

"The schools are protective of their reputation, and if it is that, it is terrible that they are pursuing only the school sanctions," he said.

At the University of Illinois, a dozen students have been disciplined for sex offenses since the 2005-06 school year. Seven were dismissed from campus and five were put on probation. An additional nine cases went through the system: Two students were found not responsible, and in seven cases the charges were dropped because the victim didn't cooperate or there wasn't enough evidence.

The Urbana-Champaign campus police have handled 19 sexual assault reports in that period, but campus police Chief Barbara O'Connor said victims sometimes are more comfortable working through the school disciplinary process.

"It might be multiple reasons — (the woman doesn't) want him to have a record, more confidential, less adversarial, not covered by the news," O'Connor said.

At Indiana University in Bloomington, 24 students have been disciplined for sex offenses since the 2005 school year. Only one who went through the disciplinary system was cleared of wrongdoing, the school said.

Margaux Janda, however, questions just how severe some of those punishments were. The suburban Chicago woman filed a complaint with a campus judicial panel in spring 2006, accusing a fellow student of raping her in her dorm room after both had been drinking, according to documents.

University officials initially wanted to suspend him for the rest of the spring and entire summer terms.

"I felt like they hadn't heard a word that was said in the hearing," Janda said. "They told me that (the accused student) had cried and they had seen it as a breakthrough. I thought, 'OK, but what about me? What about my tears?' I guess I don't matter."

Documents show the administrator who oversaw the hearing was moved by the male student's admission of personal struggles.

The administrator wrote in his recommendation that "through his self-discovery today I believe he still has hope and I want to try to support that."

IU eventually suspended the student for a year and Janda filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, which found the university acted "promptly and appropriately."

"I can understand the very real emotional distress sexual assault causes. But the criticism of IU — and I suspect most other universities — is misguided," Indiana spokesman Larry MacIntyre said. "We cannot just assume that every male accused of sexual assault is automatically guilty. We must investigate every case in a way that ensures both parties get a fair and just outcome. And the fact is, our dean of students staff and our IU Police Department are very good at doing just that."

The male student could not be reached for comment. He told school officials he and Janda had consensual sex, documents show.

Janda left the school shortly after the hearing.

Several private schools declined to provide the outcomes of disciplinary cases, and the law does not obligate them to do so. However, a bill pending in Congress would require campuses to make those numbers public.

Increased transparency could make college administrators feel more accountable to students who file complaints, said S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy at Security on Campus, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce violent crime at colleges. But even without changes to the federal law, victim advocates say, the college justice system is a needed option to the equally imperfect law enforcement route.

"The process isn't perfect," Carter said. "But the basis for having it is sound."