Senate Passes S.2978, An Act Relative to sexual violence on higher education campuses

by | Dec 22, 2020

The Massachusetts State Senate passed S.2978, ‘An act relative to sexual violence on higher education campuses.’ Senator Moore introduced this bill in the beginning of 2019, and it was first reported to the Joint Committee on Higher Education before being favorably reported on by Senate Ways and Means.

The legislation seeks to decrease the barriers that discourage students from reporting incidents of sexual violence, while working to change the culture on higher education campuses through improved training, transparency and the enforcement of policies. It complements federal requirements while establishing new state requirements, resources and support services for students.

“This week, the Senate again asserted that it will always stand for the rights of survivors of sexual violence across our state,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “I am proud of the efforts this legislation makes to enhance the safety on our campuses, while offering flexibility so that colleges and university may adapt to future federal regulatory changes. I want to thank Senators Moore, Gobi and Rodrigues for helping to move this bill forward and look forward to seeing it advance in the legislative process.”

“Making sure that colleges and universities in the Commonwealth are as best equipped as possible to handle cases of sexual assault has been one of my top priorities,” said Senator Michael Moore. “By providing a comprehensive framework for our higher education institutions, we will ensure that alleged instances of sexual assault are properly handled. I would like to thank all my colleagues who helped put this legislation together, as well as Senate leadership for getting this bill over the line this session.”

“I am glad to see this body engrossed this legislation before the end of the legislative session, giving direction to our colleges and universities to collect data and develop comprehensive sexual misconduct policies and make them known to their employees and students,” commented Senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “Having worked with victims of abuse in the past, I know the importance of having extensive support networks in place, and this bill will ensure that students and employees at our institutions of higher education will have access to the support they need.”

“Making sure students have the resources and support they need to be protected on campus is of the utmost importance,” said Senate Chair of Ways and Means Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport). “Thank you to Senate President Spilka, Senator Moore, and Senator Gobi for their hard work on this bill and for supporting survivors.”

Through the bill, students will have access to confidential resources to learn about their options regarding incidents of sexual violence. Students will also be trained on sexual violence prevention and bystander strategies. Additionally, students will be made aware of the resources available to them on and off-campus through emails and the school website. Students will also be made aware of the rights of the reporting party and the accused during the disciplinary process and the sanctions that may be imposed by the school.

This legislation also requires that schools adopt policies and procedures with local law enforcement agencies to establish their respective roles and responsibilities in cases of sexual violence. Schools must also enter into a memorandum of understanding with a sexual assault crisis service center and domestic violence agency and must train employees and individuals involved in the school’s disciplinary process, while also training campus police officers on the handling of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking complaints.

“For too long, survivors of sexual violence on our college campuses have been silenced. This legislation—key parts of which were written by students and survivors here in Massachusetts—represents a major step forward toward keeping our campuses safe and ensuring that every student’s voice is heard,” said John Gabrieli, Founder & Co-Chair of the Every Voice Coalition. “On behalf of students and survivors across Massachusetts, the Every Voice Coalition would like to thank Senator Moore and Senate leadership for moving this critical legislation forward. After six years of advocacy, it’s time for Massachusetts to listen to students and survivors and enact this bill into law.”

“Today’s action by the Senate to move forward S. 2978 comes at a particularly critical time, when the isolation and fears of so many student survivors of sexual assault have been especially heightened by this pandemic,” said Hema Sarang-Sieminski, Policy Director at Jane Doe Inc. “By ensuring student access to prevention information as well as confidential resources and support, this bill makes it clear that campuses across the Commonwealth have a critical role in helping their students and community find safety and healing. JDI applauds the Senate leadership in general and Senator Moore in particular for championing the needs of survivors of campus sexual assault.”

“This bill ensures that campus survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence and stalking have trust in their institution’s prevention and response,” said Lindy Aldrich, Founder of Ladder Consulting. “Working with community providers, trauma-informed training and confidential advocacy ensure that campus survivors can access the resources they need to recover and stay on their educational paths. I appreciate Sen. Moore’s steadfast commitment to this bill and am hopeful that it will pass quickly.”

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.