As Gov. Dannel P. Malloy prepared Monday to sign legislation aimed at improving how universities respond to sexual assaults, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he supports the legislation but it does not go far enough.
Blumenthal held a press conference in Hartford to announce what he is calling a “Bill of Rights” for the victims of campus sexual assault. It’s a set of proposals the senator is hoping to see included in legislation. The ideas come from a report his office put together after hosting roundtable discussions at seven Connecticut colleges and universities.
“As good and important as the bill is, it goes only part way in providing rights that would be included in the ‘Bill of Rights,” he said. “. . . I commend the governor for supporting and signing it, and as I mentioned earlier the legislators who supported it, but a ‘Bill of Rights’ — contained in statute, codified in law at the federal level — is absolutely necessary to protect Connecticut students as well as others, millions around the country.”
Blumenthal’s report seeks to address many of the same institutional concerns as the bill passed unanimously this year by the state legislature and which Malloy was expected to sign Monday. Both seek to ensure that victims have clear access to support services and an option to confidentially report incidents. Both require schools to establish a trained sexual assault response team.
But Blumenthal said there is still a role for the federal government to play in curbing the “epidemic” of campus sexual assault. His report calls for federal funding for schools to refine their policies and to train their staff and students. The report also recommends that Title IX policies be clarified so students know how to submit a complaint against a school.
The report also calls for sexual assault prevention efforts to begin well before students reach college. The proposal recommends age-appropriate education on “respect for other, healthy relationships, and consent” to begin during the middle school and high school years.
Laura Cordes, executive director of the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, praised the recommendation.
“We need age appropriate prevention education so that students know respect, students know how to be active bystanders to hold each other accountable for offending behavior and to end victim-blaming,” she said.
Blumenthal said he hoped to have the proposals included in federal legislation on campus sexual assaults that has yet to be drafted. He said he has discussed his ideas with U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who have been working on the issue.
“I don’t want to speak for them,” Blumenthal said, adding that he worked with both on legislation to curb sexual assaults in the military. “We’ve already had meetings, the three of us, to come together behind a number of proposals. We will be introducing legislation together.”
In the meantime, he encouraged colleges and universities to voluntarily adopt the provisions of the “Bill of Rights.” He said he found the testimony of sexual assault survivors he heard during the roundtable discussions “profoundly moving” as a father and former federal prosecutor.
At an unrelated event, Malloy praised the state bill but said he has continued to have conversations with higher education administrators on the subject.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction and holding people accountable,” Malloy said. “. . . I think there is a much greater appreciation for the need to make sure that people are comfortable coming forward.”