BERKELEY -- UC Berkeley's response to campus sexual assault is the subject of a federal investigation, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education confirmed Friday.

The probe began weeks after dozens of Berkeley students and alumni filed a complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights, alleging the school mishandled campus disciplinary cases involving sexual violence.

Six of the women involved spoke publicly in February about the attacks on them and their dealings with the campus disciplinary system, which many students turn to for justice in addition to -- or instead of -- the police.

They said they were kept in the dark about the disciplinary proceedings and that the campus failed to adequately punish the accused.

"This is an important issue," said Janet Gilmore, a UC Berkeley spokeswoman. "We certainly understand their interest and concern, and we'll cooperate fully with their investigation."

The outcry at UC Berkeley is part of a larger movement. Sexual violence victims nationwide are demanding their campuses deal swiftly and fairly with a problem that affects one in five college women, according to a White House task force report.

The Office for Civil Rights is investigating sexual violence complaints at 53 colleges nationally, up from 35 in January, according to the Department of Education.

UC Berkeley is also the subject of a state probe ordered by the Legislature's Joint Audit Committee. That report is due in June.

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