COMBATING SEXUAL VIOLENCE ON CAMPUS
By State Rep. Gregg Haddad, State Rep. Roberta Willis, State Sen. Beth Bye
Sexual violence is a crime that thrives in silence on college campuses. Approximately one in five women will experience an attempted or actual sexual assault at some point during their college careers, yet very few of them will reach out to campus officials about the incident. Only 5% will report the assault to the police.
As members of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, we are committed to ensuring that Connecticut students have a safe learning environment. With that goal in mind, we worked to pass a new law (HB 5031, An Act Concerning Sexual Violence on College Campuses) this legislative session that will help colleges and universities prevent sexual violence on campus and provide a supportive response when assaults occur.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, students decline to report sexual assaults because they fear reprisal (40%), they do not want other people to find out (47%), they don’t believe the incident is serious enough to report (65%), or they don’t know how to report (14%). While it is a victim’s prerogative to choose whether or not she/he will report, it is vital that all students understand the reporting process. Additionally, they need to know it will be a safe, supportive, confidential, and fair process. Improved disclosure policies related to sexual violence, as required in our legislation, give students and employees the tools they need to stay safe and make informed decisions about reporting their assaults.
The new law will help protect students by requiring colleges and universities, such as UConn and ECSU, to: adopt and disclose policies related to sexual assault and intimate partner violence; create a plan for how to honor court-ordered protective and restraining orders; make campus disciplinary proceedings uniform and transparent; and provide students and employees with sexual assault awareness and prevention programming.
Many of the provisions in this legislation are already required under a federal law known as the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to publish an annual report that discloses campus crime statistics and school policies related to crime and reporting. It also requires campuses to issue “timely warnings” when they become aware of a crime or series of crimes that could impact the college community. The standards outlined in the Clery Act have improved campus safety since 1990, but Connecticut should go further to address crime, especially sexual violence, at colleges and universities.
Our legislation asks schools to play an active role in preventing assaults. While it is important to appropriately report and respond to sexual violence, prevention is a more important intervention. Preventing sexual assault on college campuses takes a community-wide commitment to changing the culture and conditions that allow violence to occur. The bill insists that universities acknowledge the problem of sexual violence, bring the issue out of silence, and educate community members about how they can take responsibility for creating safe campuses.
When students go off to school to pursue an education, they deserve a learning environment that is safe and free from sexual violence. This new law will go a long way to strengthen the commitment that many colleges and universities already have to prevent sexual assault, support victims, and hold offenders accountable for their actions. It is an important step toward creating healthier and safer college communities.
State Representative Gregory Haddad serves the 54th House District which includes the towns of Mansfield and Chaplin.