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Senator Peter Barnes, D-Middlesex, speaks to the Senate after being sworn into the 216th Legislature.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Peter J. Barnes and Senator Linda R. Greenstein that would protect college students from sexual assaults and provide support to survivors was approved today by the Senate Higher Education Committee.

In response to recent reports of sexual assaults on campuses, this bill package would hold New Jersey’s colleges and universities accountable for reducing violence on their campuses. The package improves reporting requirements of sexual assault cases to parents and students, ensures colleges incorporate the proper resources for response and awareness training, and provides victims with a support system to help them through the trauma of sexual assault.

“College is supposed to be a place where our young people can learn and grow and become independent adults, but more and more often, women and even men are finding college to be a place of violence and fear,” said Senator Barnes (D-Middlesex). “It is unconscionable to allow rape and sexual violence on our campuses. Colleges and universities must be part of the solution to aid and protect victims of sexual assault through these initiatives.”

The first bill in the package sponsored by both legislators, S2357, would require institutions to provide a victim with contact information for the Sexual Assault Response Team of the county in which the institution is located, including an overview of the services available. In addition, the bill would establish a fine of up to $10,000 for an institution which fails to provide contact information or notify a sexual assault victim of available resources. The legislation would also require Rutgers University and the county prosecutor’s office in each county to annually report the number of sexual assault victims who were referred by the university to the Secretary of Higher Education.

“Often, victims of sexual assault are attacked by someone they know – a date, a friend or a partner – leaving them questioning who they can trust,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “By providing these survivors with resources to help guide them through the next steps of their recovery, we can ensure that these women and men get the support necessary and empower them to do what is best for them to get their life back on track.”

The second bill sponsored by Senator Barnes, S2358, would require New Jersey colleges and universities to provide a link to information on the homepage of their website concerning the annual total number of students or employees who have reported incidents of sexual assault by a fellow student or employee. Additionally, the legislation would require the institution to send a hard copy of its most recent report to students at the beginning of every academic year.

Currently, The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, is partnering with Rutgers University to pilot a survey that colleges and universities throughout the country can use to confidentially assess and evaluate incidences of sexual assault on their campuses. According to the Administration, 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college.

“Colleges and universities are currently caught in a Catch 22 in regards to reporting sexual assaults and crimes on campus – reporting the number of incidents to the community can deem a school as unsafe. By requiring all colleges and universities in the state to report these details in a uniform manner, we can provide an equal footing for institutions while ensuring that parents and students receive the proper information to compare how safe a school is,” added Senator Barnes.

The final bill also sponsored by Senator Barnes, S-2664, would require higher education institutions to annually provide victim response and policy training to an employee provided by the Sexual Assault Response Team designated in the colleges’ county. Furthermore, colleges and universities would be required to arrange annual on-campus sexual assault training at the beginning of each school year for athletic programs, school groups and other organizations such as fraternities and sororities.

“To better respond to sexual assault cases, victim-centered training is a must for both employees and students. This training should include how to refer victims to services such as counseling, medical and legal aid to help these individuals in their recovery, policies on how to report cases on behalf of the individual, and the proper disciplinary actions,” said Senator Barnes. “Institutions must take an active role in ensuring that students and faculty are aware of the seriousness of sexual assault and the resources that are available on campus and in the community. No victim should have to suffer through the recovery process because of a lack of a support system.”

The bill package was approved by a vote of 5-0. S-2357 and S-2664 will head to the Budget and Appropriations Committee. S-2358 is now pending consideration by the Senate.

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