Poll: Virginians Oppose Colleges Handling Sexual Assault Allegations Internally

January 27, 2015

Christopher Newport University’s Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy has just released a poll of 1,062 registered voters in Virginia showing overwhelming support for mandatory reporting of campus sexual assault allegations to local police.

The poll included questions on a range of issues facing Virginia residents, including budgetary concerns, election laws, and marijuana legalization. In light of the recent media focus on campus sexual assault, the poll posed this question:

There has been a lot of news recently about sexual assaults on college campuses in Virginia and across the nation. While a victim of sexual assault always has the option to file charges with local police, colleges and universities typically handle allegations of sexual assault as an internal disciplinary matter. There is a proposal before the General Assembly to require universities to report allegations of sexual assault to local police rather than handle them internally. What is your view, do you think universities [RANDOMIZE: “should be required to report allegations of sexual assault to local police” or “should be allowed to handle allegations of sexual assault as internal disciplinary matters”]?

Just 7 percent of respondents supported the status quo, which allows colleges to handle sexual assault allegations as an internal matter. In contrast, 90 percent of respondents said that colleges should be required to report those allegations to police. Poll results were broken down by sex, geographical region, age, and political ideology, but were consistent on this question across all categories. (Variations almost all fell within the study’s margin of error.)

Virginia voters might just have their way. Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill—HB 1930—that would require faculty members and administrators at the commonwealth’s public institutions of higher education to report allegations of violent felonies to law enforcement. The state legislature’s Senate Education and Health Committee advanced the bill on Monday. And as The Huffington Post reported this week, other states have drafted similar legislation. Some victims’ rights advocates, however, are pushing back, arguing that the police are not handling sexual assault allegations properly, either, and that they tend to “re-victimize” complainants.

While there are certainly instances of law enforcement officers improperly responding to reports of sexual assault, FIRE continues to argue that addressing the problem of sexual violence requires involving the criminal justice system, not simply leaving the adjudication of these serious crimes to the non-professionals at educational institutions—and the Virginia public seems to agree.