BOSTON – State Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury) joined Governor Baker and other legislators to mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness month, by highlighting his bill relative to sexual assault on campus as part of the Commonwealth’s effort to address the issue.
As the public and policy-makers continue to confront the prevalence of sexual assault, an area that demands immediate attention is the numerous higher education campuses across the Commonwealth. The bill, which was filed in January, is currently titled S.679, an Act concerning sexual violence on higher education campuses.
“While we count among our rank some of the most esteemed colleges and universities in the world, sexual assaults presents a range of issues that far exceed traditional administrative discipline mechanisms” said Moore. “We must provide a comprehensive framework that will protect our students to the best of our ability, and ensure the proper handling of any alleged sexual assault on campus.”
The legislation complements recently released federal guidelines regarding Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. The guidelines stipulate that all schools take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence, including a full investigation into any incident about which a school has or should have knowledge. Many schools have struggled to adapt their own administrative disciplinary procedures to meet these standards for the wide variance of circumstances, including gender differences, contradictory accounts, and the many options to protect victim’s privacy.
“Perpetrators of sexual violence need to be held accountable. I support Senator Moore’s common sense legislation that requires schools to develop appropriate procedures and protocols to address sexual violence on campus” said Representative Tom Sannicandro, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “It’s an important step toward creating a safer atmosphere on campus.”
Specifically, the bill requires colleges and universities to provide additional information about sexual violence in annual crime reports, and provides oversight from the Board of Higher Education through a Public Safety Officer who will review campus safety policies. All schools would also be required to hold annual mandatory sexual assault prevention training for students, as well as providing them information about sexual assault policies, and resources for survivors.
The legislation also requires training for staff, including a trained confidential advisor on campus. Additionally they must provide sexual violence training for employees, and implement a Threat Response Program to be used for emergency communication on and off campus. It also mandates that institutions, subject to appropriation, undertake a Memorandum of Understanding with a local rape crisis center to provide additional resources for survivors and the entire campus community.
Governor Charlie Baker also noted the importance of raising awareness and offering strong state guidance when he reconvened the Governor’s Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence on Monday. The Council has been charged with implementing the domestic violence law passed by the legislature last year.
“I commend Governor Baker on reconvening the Governor’s Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence” said Senator Moore. “The Commonwealth must establish a comprehensive policy to reduce the threat of sexual assault, and the Council will play an important role in that effort. I look forward to working with them in to make Massachusetts a safer place.”
The bill has been assigned to the Joint Committee on Higher Education, and is currently awaiting a public hearing.