A new poll conducted by The Huffington Post and YouGov reveals that the majority of the 1,000 adults surveyed have little, if any, trust that colleges and universities properly handle reports of sexual misconduct. This isn’t very surprising considering the dozens of schools currently being investigated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over allegations that they mishandled sexual assault cases and the many inadequacies of campus sexual misconduct hearings to which FIRE frequently points. But the poll’s numbers are helpful to illustrate the scope of the problem as well as potential solutions.
“Generally speaking,” the poll states, only 14% of respondents thought “colleges and universities do a good … job handling cases of students reporting rape, sexual assault or harassment.” 42% of respondents thought they did a “bad job,” and 44% weren’t sure. It’s also noteworthy that people didn’t mistrust schools just on an absolute scale but also relative to other institutions:
While the percentage of people who trust law enforcement “a little” is roughly in the same ballpark as the percentage of people who trust colleges “a little,” the remainders skew in opposite directions. More people trust law enforcement “a lot” than “not at all,” whereas more people trust colleges “not at all” than “a lot.”
Given that colleges and universities lack the resources, training, and authority that law enforcement has, it makes sense that law enforcement is trusted more with properly handling these cases. As Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein pointed out in The New York Times last year, even in the best case scenario, a school cannot keep a student found responsible for sexual assault off the streets. Serious crimes like sexual assault should be investigated by professionals with specialized training in that field, not by administrators who specialize in school management.
That is not to say that colleges and universities should do nothing after a report of sexual misconduct. Quite to the contrary: As I emphasized here on The Torch last month, schools have a vital role to play in providing a range of remedial measures for students who report sexual misconduct, such as counseling and administrative arrangements to minimize contact with accused students. (And with most poll respondents sharing a high level of trust in non-profit organizations that provide rape crisis counseling, perhaps schools could better earn the trust of their students by providing or helping students find these resources.) But the fact that colleges are legally and morally obligated to take some actions in response to sexual assault allegations does not mean that they should attempt to carry out all procedures by themselves—as investigators of felony crimes, they are far out of their depth.
Check out YouGov’s website for more poll questions and a breakdown of the numbers by demographic.
Image: “Checkbox and Red Pen” – Shutterstock