Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Said Something Sane About Campus Rape—Activists Are Attacking Him

Sanders isn't crazy: rape really is a violent crime that the police should handle.



That didn't take long. Victims' advocacy groups are going after Bernie Sanders for asserting that campus sexual assault—like all other kinds of sexual assault—is best left to law enforcement.

In his comments earlier this week, Sanders stated explicitly that rape must always be dealt with as a criminal manner, rather than as an education issue. While that might seem like a stridently anti-rape stance, it actually puts him at odds with the vast majority of campus advocacy groups, who agree that rape is an epidemic and yet believe campus-run show trials that result in mere expulsion are the best way to deal with rapists.

The Huffington Post interviewed several such activists who were dissatisfied with Sanders' comments:

"Advocating for requiring survivors to go to the police shows his lack of understanding of what constitutes equity on campus," said Andrea Pino, a survivor and co-founder of the activist group End Rape On Campus, "and also demonstrates an ignorance of the current lack of police preparedness on this issue." 

Alexandra Brodsky, a Yale Law student and co-founder of the advocacy group Know Your IX, said Sanders has "a lot to learn." 

"Without key interventions by their schools, many survivors won't be able to continue their educations," Brodsky wrote on Feministing, where she is an editor. "An extension on a paper due the week after an assault might make the difference between a victim staying in school and dropping out. No police force can provide that kind of accommodation. Don't want victims 'sitting in a classroom alongside somebody who raped them'? A school can often make that happen more quickly than a student can get a restraining order, particularly if he or she has trouble accessing a court."

The most charitable explanation of their argument for why colleges rather than (or at least, in addition to) the police should handle rape is this: sexual assault is not merely a crime, but a violation of Title IX, the provision of federal law prohibiting gender-based discrimination in higher education. Student-victims of rape have been deprived of their legal right to an education, and thus campuses are obligated to put certain practices into place to help them cope—practices that neglect the due process rights of accused students.

Of course, this argument is something of a tautology. Unelected bureaucrats in the Title IX agency—the Office for Civil Rights—invented the idea that sexual assault is a deprivation of a student's civil rights rather than just a violent crime, and these same bureaucrats are the ones proscribing all the solutions for it.

Activists maintain that students should have the option to report to campus administrators, the police, or both. But it's worth wondering whether this extra path—where innocent people are treated too harshly, and guilty people are not treated harshly enough—deters victims from going down the road that would actually protect the broader community (beyond just the university) from dangerous predators: reporting to the police.

It would not surprise me if the pushback from activists persuades Sanders to walk back his comments. But he should stick to his guns: he's right, in this case. As he said, rape is a terrible crime, and the way it's handled by campuses is insulting.