Connecticut lawmakers have given final legislative approval to a wide-ranging bill that attempts to address and prevent sexual assault on college campuses, mirroring some of the newly released recommendations from a White House task force.
“I mean it when I say this is landmark legislation. There is no other legislation in the entire country,” said Jillian Gilchrest, director of public policy and communication for the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services.
Gilchrest said Connecticut was first in the nation in 2012 to require college and university campuses to institute sexual assault policies. Now, she said, the state will be the first to require campuses to institute tried and true policies and procedures, or “best practices,” in the field of sexual violence, sexual assault services and prevention.
The bipartisan bill passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday. It previously passed the House of Representatives and now heads to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, credited a group of past and present female University of Connecticut students who came forward and told lawmakers their personal stories about being assaulted, as well as the aftermath of dealing with the school.
Various reports indicated that one in five women are victims of sexual assault while in college.
“There’s absolutely no question that it was the catalyst to make everyone, not only here in this building but in the state of Connecticut, recognize the significance of this,” Cassano said. “When you have a group of five students and you look at the large number of universities and so on, you start to think about the unreported, the unknowns and everything that goes along with this. It was clearly a message that something must be done.”
The legislation comes in the wake of federal complaints, including a Title IX lawsuit filed last fall, that allege the University of Connecticut responded to recent reports of sexual assaults there with deliberate indifference or worse. UConn officials contend the university is committed to working aggressively to eliminate all forms of sexual violence.
Under the bill, all public and private colleges and universities in Connecticut must immediately provide concise, written notification to each sexual assault victim regarding their rights and options under the school’s policies following an assault. A similar recommendation was made by the White House task force. Schools would be allowed to accept anonymous reporting of sexual assaults.
Connecticut’s legislation also requires all colleges and universities to enter into a “memorandum of understanding” with at least one community-based sexual assault crisis center and one community-based domestic violence agency to make sure sexual assault victims can access free and confidential counseling and services on or off-campus.
Additionally, all colleges and universities must create a campus resource team to review school policies to make recommendations for services to students and employees who report being sexually assaulted. The bill also requires more prevention programs, with an emphasis on encouraging bystanders to intervene.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said even with the passage of this legislation, more needs to be done to change the culture. He said it’s something that personally concerns him, as a father of two teenage daughters.
“I don’t know I would ever want them to go to a school that has a place called ‘rape trail’ on it,” McKinney said, referring to UConn. “The very fact that that had continued to exist, however much an urban myth or not, speaks not well of our culture at our university. So there is a lot more that needs to be done.”
Besides supporting the bill, many male legislators have signed a pledge to work with Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services and end sexual violence. Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, co-chairman of the higher education committee, credited her male colleagues with playing in a key role in crafting the legislation.
“It can’t just be women’s voices,” she said. “We need a chorus of men and women speaking out and speaking up on this issue.”