(Updated 6:32 p.m.) The same day the White House released its recommendations to end sexual assault on college campuses, the Connecticut Senate unanimously passed a bill that expands sexual assault reporting requirements.
The bill, which already passed the House, includes a number of new reporting requirements that instruct public and private colleges to provide victims with clear, written information on their rights and options when they report an assault. The legislation also requires schools to maintain trained Sexual Assault Response Teams and offers anonymous reporting options.
At a press conference earlier in the day, Jillian Gilchrest of Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services said that April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and she can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with some of the 117 male legislators who co-sponsored the bill and another 65 who have signed a pledge to be active in preventing sexual violence in their communities.
The male lawmakers who signed the pledge join 350 other men in the state who have agreed to take action to end sexual violence, including participating in bystander intervention training, Gilchrest said.
Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, said the part of the bill he’s most proud of is the “bystander intervention strategies.” He said this is an attempt to “enlist the student body to help combat incidents of sexual assault on college campuses.” He said it’s about educating people to recognize when a sexual assault or the elements of a sexual assault are about to occur and intervening to stop that incident from happening.
With the University of Connecticut and 13,000 undergraduates in his district and the fact that one in five women are sexually assaulted while attending college means there are perhaps hundreds of incidents each year and “that I think we all need to stand up and say is unacceptable,” Haddad said.
Most often, sexual assault for college age women happens in their freshman or sophomore year, according to the White House report. “In the great majority of cases, it’s by someone she knows — and also most often, she does not report what happened,” the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault stated in a press release.
Connecticut’s legislation was prompted by a Title XI complaint filed by seven University of Connecticut students who claim the school ignored their sexual assault reports. Their complaint with the U.S. Education Department, was followed by a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by four of the seven students.
Cassano called the complaint and lawsuit the “catalyst” for the legislation “to make everyone recognize, not only here in this building but in the state of Connecticut, recognize the significance of this.”
But regardless of how it came to the attention of lawmakers everyone seemed to agree something needed to be done.
“This is a situation we must not tolerate and must do everything in our power to be proactive and to make sure we do everything we possibly can to help people who have become victims of this,” Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said. “There’s no place for this in society.”
Female lawmakers were the first to rally around the issue, followed by the male lawmakers who held their own press conference Tuesday.
“The women in our lives deserve the protection and consideration that the initiatives call for,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said. “We also as men need to recognize when trouble is developing and to speak up and say something about it.”
Earlier in the day, Interval House launched its “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” campaign to raise awareness about teen dating abuse and violence.
A recent survey by Women’s Health Magazine shows 81 percent of parents either don’t believe teen violence is an issue in their family or don’t know if it is. The numbers showed 32-percent of college-aged females say they have been victims of dating violence and in Connecticut, high school students are shown to be more likely to be hit, slapped or hurt by a dating partner.
The group is asking Connecticut residents to use #LoveShouldntHurt on social media to draw attention to teen dating violence. Victims in need of immediate assistance should call 1-888-774-2900.