Over 90 percent of American voters say that police should take the lead in handling campus sexual assault, rather than relying on school administrators, according to a poll released this week. The poll suggests the public strongly disagrees with the approach taken by President Barack Obama and other lawmakers on the issue of campus assaults.
The poll was commissioned by the Fraternity and Sorority Action Fun, a pro-Greek life PAC, and it was carried out by the market research firm Penn Schoen Berland. It surveyed 1,021 likely voters in the United States, and sought to gauge public response towards the Safe Campus Act, a bill currently under consideration in the House of Representatives.
The Safe Campus Act, introduced by Republican Rep. Matt Salmon, would significantly alter how sexual assaults are handled at colleges. Currently, students can choose to report an alleged assault solely to campus officials without going to the police, and schools can investigate and even expel students for assault with zero police involvement. Under the act, colleges would now be unable to investigate alleged assaults unless a student also makes a police report. Colleges would also have to give police an exclusive window of opportunity to investigate before taking action themselves, and before punishing students they would be required to hold hearings where accused students have several due process rights (such as the right to cross-examination).
Many anti-assault activists oppose the bill, claiming it would have a “chilling effect” on reporting assaults because many people feel uncomfortable going to the police rather than campus authorities. (RELATED: Senate Plans One-Sided Sexual Assault Panel)
But apparently, they could be in the minority. According to the new poll, over 90 percent of likely voters agree with each individual proposal of the Safe Campus Act. About 90 percent supported letting students in a campus hearing have an attorney advise them, over 80 percent supported giving police an exclusive investigative window, and exactly 80 percent supported allowing cross-examination in campus hearings. Over 80 percent of people also supported letting colleges choose a higher standard of evidence than “preponderance of the evidence,” going against the Obama administration’s policy.
Overall, 77 percent of respondents said they’d support passing the Safe Campus Act. (RELATED: Are 20 Percent Of Women Really Assaulted In College?)
Notably, though, the poll didn’t ask about one important aspect of the bill: Prohibiting colleges from investigating an assault unless that assault is also reported to the police. Several activists against campus assaults sharply oppose that provision, saying it will have a “chilling effect” on victims who may want a rapist kicked off campus but don’t want to endure the difficulties of a law enforcement investigation.
The Obama administration has sought to deal with assault by ratcheting up pressure on college administrators. The Department of Education has compelled universities to use the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard to adjudicate assault complaints, and it’s initiated investigations at dozens of schools that have allegedly been lax on the matter.
Efforts to fight assault through university hearings have also been seen in legislation. Several states have required colleges to adopt “affirmative consent” standards where a student commits sexual assault if they don’t receive explicit prior consent for every individual sexual act, while at the federal level a group of senators led by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand are pushing a bill that would compel colleges to take a variety of actions to counter assault while threatening them with substantial fines if they are too lax on the matter. Gillibrand’s bill has been criticized for containing no due process protections, and Gillibrand herself has even stated that she sees no problem with giving accused college students relatively few protections. (RELATED: Major Study On Campus Sex Assault Debunked)
If this new poll is accurate, then these legislative approaches may be ignoring the strong preference of the general public.
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