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Americans Have Little Faith In Colleges To Handle Sexual Assault Cases

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A large swathe of the American public believes colleges and universities do not accurately report all rapes on campus and has little faith in schools to properly handle sexual assault cases, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

Just 12 percent of those polled said colleges do a "good job" handling sexual violence on campus, while another 42 percent said they do a "bad job." The rest weren't sure. Similarly, 17 percent of respondents said they place "a lot" of faith in colleges in their own state to properly handle a situation in which someone reports rape or sexual assault. Sixty percent said they have "a little" faith, and 23 percent said "not at all."

How colleges handle sexual violence on campus has increasingly come under scrutiny, after an unprecedented wave of federal complaints against schools in 2013. Last month, President Barack Obama launched a White House task force on the issue.

Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England School of Law, said she is not entirely surprised there's so little faith in colleges, given media reports of alleged failures by school officials when handling these cases.

"I think that the public is generally aware that colleges have a responsibility to respond to student reports of sexual assault," said Buzuvis, who is also the director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies at Western New England. "It's becoming increasingly well known that colleges have a reporting obligation as well."

Under the federal gender equity law Title IX, higher education institutions have an obligation to respond to reports of sexual assault and harassment. Schools are required to accurately track and disclose all sex crimes on campus under the Clery Act.

However, the poll showed 61 percent believe colleges and universities try to keep their numbers low by not reporting all sex crimes on campus. Only 17 percent think schools will accurately report all sex crimes on campus, even if it makes them look bad.

All of the opinions in the poll held relatively consistent across genders and ages.

The poll makes it clear that college and universities "need to set the right tone by being more transparent about reporting crime statistics and promoting their policies on sexual assault prevention and response," said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women.

"It's also clear that colleges and universities need to do more to demonstrate that protecting students and improving campus climates is every bit as important as their bottom line," Maatz said. "Survivors need to know that their complaints are being heard and respectfully resolved, and prospective students have a right to know that schools are complying with civil rights laws."

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Jan. 30-31 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

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