TRENTON – Two bills sponsored by Senator Peter J. Barnes and Senator Sandra B. Cunningham that aim to protect college students from sexual assaults and to reduce violence on college campuses by establishing a task force and requiring institutions of higher education to conduct campus climate surveys through an advisory board was approved today by the Senate Higher Education Committee.
The bills are in response to the growing concern of sexual assault incidents on college campuses across the country. According to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, nationally. A study conducted by the Rutgers Center on Violence Against Women and Children along with The White House Task Force concluded that in order to effectively address sexual assaults at institutions, states must first identify the scope of the problem on its campuses. The following two bills help to address this issue by establishing a sexual assault task force and an advisory board aimed at improving current practices and policies at colleges and universities.
“We are seeing a dangerous trend that is affecting many young people studying at colleges and universities,” said Senator Barnes (D-Middlesex). “Sexual assault on college campuses is a serious problem that must be addressed at the state and local level. Currently, institutions are not properly equipped with the available resources to help sexual assault survivors and to prevent future incidents of violence. Through this legislation, we will improve policies and practices at higher education institutions, provide the necessary support for survivors and ensure the safety of students across the state.”
The first bill, S-2812, would establish a Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault, consisting of 12 members appointed by the Governor and members of the Legislature, to study and evaluate current policies and practices regarding campus sexual assault. The study would identify problems and areas for improvement, and make recommendations concerning campus sexual assault prevention, response, and awareness. The task force would be required to issue a final report with its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature within one year of its organization.
“Sexual assault can happen to anyone –both men and women –and anywhere, including places once thought to be safe like college campuses,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “We need measures to improve our higher education system’s response to this issue, to bring those accountable for their actions and provide a safe haven in which sexual assault survivors can get the help they need. Establishing a task force that will help to pin point problems and provide recommendations is a great first step in preventing and ultimately ending sexual assault on college campuses.”
The second bill, S-3214, would require all higher education institutions to establish a Sexual Violence Prevention Advisory Board, comprised of representatives of the institute’s administration, faculty, and student body. The Advisory Board would establish and oversee a research team that would analyze an institution’s current sexual assault policies and available resources, as well as conduct surveys and focus groups consisting of student responses. Additionally, surveys and focus groups would examine concerns among minority groups, athletic organizations, fraternities and sororities as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. The research team would submit its findings and recommendations to the Advisory Board. After reviewing the findings, the Board would submit its own report to the institution’s governing board, the Secretary of Higher Education, the Governor, and the Legislature.
“A thorough examination is needed to ensure that institutions make the appropriate next steps to improve their sexual assault response,” added Senator Barnes. “With an advisory board and research team, colleges and universities will be able to find any underlying problems in their practices and policies and take action that will further help to protect sexual assault survivors.”
In 2014, RutgersUniversity in partnership with the Obama Administration launched an initiative to help combat sexual assault on campus by conducting research and providing policy recommendations to help improve college and universities’ response to sexual assaults. The University conducted a pilot survey within the Rutgers University-New Brunswick campus. The survey found that one in four undergraduate women at the university responded as having been a victim of “some form of sexual violence before they ever set foot on campus.” Modeled after the University’s pilot survey, S-3214 would tailor questions according to each institution’s student body demographic.
“It is imperative that we continue to do effective research on this matter so that colleges and universities can take a proactive approach in their response to incidents of sexual assault,” added Senator Cunningham. “With RutgersUniversity’s findings as a solid foundation, we can continue to conduct research that will hopefully yield better policies to better safeguard students from all forms of sexual violence in the future.”
S-2812 and S-3214 was approved by the Committee by a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the Senate pending consideration.