Bernie Sanders takes surprising stance on handling of campus sexual assault

While speaking in Iowa on Monday at the Black & Brown Democratic Presidential Forum, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took a controversial stance by calling for local law enforcement to handle allegations of sexual assault on college campuses.

“If a student rapes another student it has got to be understood as a very serious crime, it has to get outside of the school and have a police investigation and that has to take place,” Sanders told the forum, going on to argue that “rape and assault is rape or assault whether it takes place on a campus or a dark street.”

Sanders’ comments echo a letter from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault written in March 2014 where they state that, according to the Department of Justice, only 12 percent of women who are sexually assaulted on college campuses will report the assault to law enforcement.

“[S]erial criminals are left unpunished and free to strike again. And the message this sends to the broader community and future offenders? You can rape with impunity; that’s just what happens in college,” the group wrote.

RAINN says that it is “imperative that colleges and universities partner with local law enforcement around these crimes – from the time of report to resolution.”

A poll conducted in February 2014 by The Huffington Post and YouGov revealed that, of the 1,000 adults surveyed, only 14 percent thought that colleges and universities do “a good job” handling cases of students reporting rape, sexual assault, or harassment, while 42 percent said they do “a bad job.”

When asked to choose if they thought colleges and universities would “accurately report all sex crimes on campus, even if it makes them look bad” or “try to keep their numbers low by not reporting all sex crimes on campus,” 61 percent said they believed they would try to keep their numbers low.

Mandatory law enforcement referrals have been met with skepticism before by organizations such as The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and Know Your IX, an organization that says its goal is “empowering students to stop sexual violence.”

An online survey conducted by these two groups in March 2015 found that nearly 90 percent of respondents believe victims of alleged sexual assault, “should retain the right whether and to whom to report sexual assault.”

A further 79 percent of respondents believed that mandatory reporting to police “could have a chilling effect on reporting” and 72 percent were worried that “survivors would be forced to participate in the criminal justice system/go to trial.”

Neither organization’s website discloses the total number of those surveyed.

Sanders’ recent comments drew from Alexandra Brodsky, co-founder of Know Your IX, who wrote an article for Feministing in response to Sanders titled “Hey Bernie: Campus Rape is a Civil Rights Issue.”

“To treat gender violence as only a crime is to give up on the project of campus sex equality,” she wrote, later remarking that “[Sanders] finds himself with strange bedfellows: conservative legislators trying to strip anti-discrimination law of its power.”

“You just have a lot to learn,” Brodsky wrote.

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