As growing numbers of students report sexual violence, those who seek justice through internal channels at colleges are learning that even when allegations are upheld, school officials are often reluctant to impose their harshest punishment on the attackers: expulsion.

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan

Federal data on college discipline obtained by The Washington Post suggest that students found responsible for sexual assault are as likely to be ordered to have counseling or given a reprimand as they are to be kicked out. They are much more likely to be suspended and then allowed to finish their studies.

The University of Virginia has expelled no students for sexual misconduct in the past decade, a record that has intensified scrutiny of the public flagship university now at the center of debate on campus sexual assault. Why, skeptics ask, has U-Va. dismissed dozens of students for academic cheating in recent years but none for sexual assault?

“I am concerned about the way we approach this and whether we are approaching it correctly,” U-Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said in an interview with The Post. She acknowledged that the school is reviewing “the way in which we adjudicate these issues.”

That review and other efforts to improve campus safety, as well as an ongoing federal probe of U-Va.’s record on sexual violence, underscore that sexual assault is likely to remain a high-profile issue at the university even after the unraveling of a Rolling Stone magazine article on an alleged fraternity gang rape there.

In contrast with U-Va., theUniversity of Maryland,Georgetown University and George Mason University told The Post they have issued a small number of expulsions for sexual misconduct in the past two years.

National debate about campus sexual assault — flaring this year at all levels of higher education, from the Ivy League to community colleges — has opened a window onto the largely hidden world of student discipline.