Sanders Criticized for Comments on Sex Assault Investigations

January 13, 2016

Sexual assault survivors’ groups are criticizing remarks by Senator Bernie Sanders this week in which the Democratic presidential hopeful called for rape accusations to be handled by law enforcement rather than colleges.

Calling campus sexual assault an “epidemic,” Sanders said that it shouldn’t matter “whether it takes place on a campus or on a dark street.”

“If a student rapes a fellow student, that has got to be understood as a very serious crime,” he said during a Democratic presidential forum hosted by Fusion. “It has got to get outside of the school and have a police investigation, and that has got to take place.”

“Too many schools now are saying, well, this is a student issue, let’s deal with it,” he continued. “I disagree with that. It is a crime, and it has to be treated as a serious crime.”

Colleges are currently required to address and investigate reports of sexual assault under the federal antidiscrimination law known as Title IX. In recent years the Obama administration has been more aggressive in enforcing that law and telling colleges they need to do a better job of handling sexual assault cases.

Sanders’s comments put him at odds with advocates who believe assault victims should have the choice of whether to resolve their case in the criminal justice system, campus processes or both.

“Police and prosecutors routinely fail survivors of sexual assault,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, an advocacy group, adding that “sexual assault isn’t just a crime -- it’s a civil rights violation -- and schools are required by law to address it.”

Some college leaders, meanwhile, have said that they are ill equipped to investigate and adjudicate sexual assault cases and have called for such cases to be resolved only by law enforcement.

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