BOSTON – The Joint Committee on Higher Education unanimously voted to advance legislation filed by Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) to help address the issue of college campus sexual violence. The bill is a re-filed version of Moore-sponsored legislation that passed the Senate last year but ultimately was not considered by the House of Representatives before the end of the legislative session.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resources Center, one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college. Despite these statistics, an estimated ninety percent of students do not report incidents of sexual violence. This legislation would codify and compliment federal requirements, and establish new state-level policies for all higher education institutions in the Commonwealth.
“Through improved training, transparency and enforcement of policies, this bill supports initiatives that work to protect students, and ensure that postsecondary institutions are implementing systems that students can trust,” said Senator Moore, who serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “As a legislator, and as a father, I recognize that there is more we should be doing to help prevent incidents of sexual assault on our college campuses. I am hopeful that this important legislation will make its way to the Governor’s desk this time around.”
Pursuant to a provision of the state’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the Department of Higher Education (DHE) conducted a comprehensive study of on-campus safety and violence. The report, which was released last month, provides many recommendations that further justify provisions of this legislation.
This bill requires all students and staff to receive mandatory annual sexual violence prevention and awareness programming as well as be notified, via email and on the school website, of the campus policies including information on the resources available to sexual assault victims both on and off-campus, and of the rights of the accused and the alleged victim.
In order to reduce the barriers that discourage students from reporting sexual violence, the bill also requires schools to designate a confidential resource advisor to serve as a liaison for students. When requested by a student, the confidential resource advisor shall provide information on reporting options and the consequences of each of the options and coordinate with the schools to arrange academic accommodations and interim protective measures, such as changing dorms.
Because the lack of training of campus staff involved in sexual assault investigations often leads to negative results and experiences for the accused and victims, this legislation requires that staff responsible for participating in disciplinary proceedings will receive appropriate training to make sure they are knowledgeable about how to best approach these incidents.
Moreover, in an effort to promote increased coordination with outside resources and services, the bill requires schools to establish a memorandum of understanding with sexual assault crisis centers, as well as adopt policies that clearly outline the responsibilities and the sharing of information with law enforcement that is not in violation of state and federal laws.
In order to serve as a resource to schools by providing guidance on policies as well as sharing best practices, training opportunities, and other resources to enhance campus safety, the legislation would establish a campus safety advisor at the Department of Higher Education to advance state-wide campus safety initiatives.
The bill, S.706, will now move forward through the legislative process for further consideration. To continue tracking the legislation, please visit www.malegislature.gov.