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Bernie Sanders: Campus rape is a ‘very serious crime’ that ‘has to’ be investigated by police

UPDATED

The democratic socialist who would be president just put a fat target on his back.

Campaigning Monday at the Black and Brown Presidential Forum in Iowa, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders said colleges shouldn’t try to investigate allegations of sexual assault on their own, The Hill reports.

Rape is rape “whether it takes place on a campus or a dark street,” Sanders said:

“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.”

He added that too many schools are treating it as a “student issue” instead of referring accusations to law enforcement and added that victims shouldn’t have to be in classes with their rapists.

RELATED: Bernie Sanders signs on to campus sexual assault bill day after Clinton’s high-profile speech

Sanders was responding to an audience question and he endorsed the notion of “affirmative consent” as well, Fusion reports. The idea of a police mandate drew immediate criticism from backers of college-led investigations.

His response shows that Sanders “doesn’t understand why colleges are handling sexual assaults in the first place,” says Vox education reporter Libby Nelson. Noting Sanders’ reference to sitting in class with one’s alleged rapist, she says:

The criminal justice system can’t rearrange a college student’s schedule so she doesn’t have to sit next to her rapist. But colleges can. They can also shuffle housing assignments and provide counseling.

Nelson also cites the lower evidence standard (“preponderance”) used in campus adjudications. While noting that there’s “valid concern” this could lead to “expelling innocent young men,” she continues:

But when people say that police, not colleges, should handle sexual assaults, they should keep in mind that many victims of sexual assault know campus justice is the only justice they’re likely to get.

The “anti-sexism” group UltraViolet, which made a parody porn video promoting affirmative consent and ran ads saying prominent universities have a “rape problem,” sent an email blast criticizing Sanders’ statements.

Co-founder Shaunna Thomas claimed that “just two of every 100 perpetrators of sexual violence ever see a day behind bars” (a spokeswoman said Thomas was citing the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which says it factors in “unreported rapes”):

Police and prosecutors routinely fail survivors of sexual assault. … Bernie Sanders’ position fails to address the epidemic of campus rape, and would hurt rather than help survivors. Sexual assault isn’t just a crime–it’s a civil rights violation–and schools are required by law to address it. …

Bernie Sanders can and must do better. He should meet with survivors, hear from them directly, and then work to develop a more comprehensive plan to deal with this serious issue.

RELATED: Feminists’ Ad Campaign Targets Universities, Warns of Their ‘Rape Problem’

Sanders isn’t the only prominent Democrat to highlight the importance of law enforcement involvement for allegations of rape, however.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a former state attorney general, said at a campus-rape hearing last summer that police have vastly improved their investigations of domestic violence in response to similar criticisms, and there’s no reason to suspect they can’t improve their treatment of alleged rape victims as well. From our coverage then:

Evidence in rape cases is “unnecessarily lost” because law enforcement isn’t brought in soon enough …

“The concept that I am mulling,” Whitehouse said, wrapping up his spiel, is that the police would get involved at a “very early stage of the alleged assault.” There could be a “law enforcement vestibule” where an officer meets with a confidential adviser, accuser and Clery officer and walks them through the “real prospects” of their case, as well as the risks of losing “both electronic and biological evidence” if accusers don’t cooperate.

The “fears that have been justly provoked by clumsy, untrained, not-trauma-informed, inexperienced law enforcement interventions are becoming an obstacle” to helping accusers early in the process, Whitehouse said.

Sanders has a complicated relationship with feminism, as we’ve noted: He had to explain last spring why he wrote a “rape fantasy” essay in 1972 for a Vermont alt rag.

Read the Hill, Fusion and Vox stories.

UPDATE: “Anti-sexism” group UltraViolet released a statement criticizing Sanders. The article has been amended to include UltraViolet’s view and its history.

CORRECTION: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse was initially identified with the wrong state. He represents Rhode Island.

RELATED: Due-process questions stump witnesses at Senate hearing on campus sexual assault

RELATED: Guess which socialist Jew is coming to conservative evangelical Liberty University

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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