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Senator Barnes to Introduce Legislation to Protect College Students, Empower Sexual Assault Survivors

Senator Barnes speaks on Bail Reform

Bill Package To Hold New Jersey Colleges and Universities Accountable For Reducing Violence on Campus

TRENTON – In response to recent reports stating that one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college, Senator Peter J. Barnes, III today announced a bill package to 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 are not sweeping cases under the rug 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. “We cannot continue to allow rape and sexual violence to occur on our campuses. Colleges and universities must step up to help prevent these actions and to protect those individuals who are victims of sexual assault.”

The first bill in the package would provide students at colleges and universities in New Jersey who have been sexually assaulted with a confidential advocate who can help them determine their options and provide guidance and support in the decision-making process. RutgersUniversity already has a similar program offering advocacy and support for those who are victims of crime through their Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance. Additionally, Confidential Sexual Assault Advocates are available in each county throughout the state. This legislation would ensure that those individuals are available at each college or university campus in New Jersey.

“More often than not, 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 Barnes. “By providing these survivors with someone to turn to who can help them determine the best course of action for their individual situation, we can make sure these women and men know that they are not alone and empower these survivors to do what is best for them to recover.”

The second bill would require New Jersey colleges and universities to report annually on their website how many students have reported incidents of sexual assault by a fellow student.  Additionally, the legislation would require the institution to send the report to students prior to the beginning of the school year.

In a recent report by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, the White House announced a partnership with RutgersUniversity 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.  Senator Barnes notes that this anonymous reporting tool will help colleges and universities more fully understand the extent of violence on their campuses.

“Colleges and universities are currently caught in a Catch 22 in regards to reporting sexual assaults and crimes on campus – for those who do the right thing and share with parents and students the rate of incidents they can be pegged as being unsafe. By requiring all colleges and universities in the state to report these details, we can  level the playing field, ensuring that all parents and students have information they can compare across the board regarding safety at schools,” added Senator Barnes.

The final bill, S-2317, would require colleges and universities to appropriately and effectively respond to reported incidences of sexual assault on campus. The bill would require that when a student reports to campus police or security an incident of assault perpetrated by an employee or someone holding a formal position within the college or university, then the university must report the assault to local police.

“Any appearance of impropriety when dealing with an accusation of sexual assault committed by a faculty or staff member can have a damning effect on the university,” said Senator Barnes. “There is simply too much on the line for the school if individuals believe that the college or university is sweeping an incident under a rug to protect their own. Reporting to local law enforcement will better ensure the involvement of an independent entity, which is beneficial for both the school and the student.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act that would heavily fine schools that do not accurately report sexual assault crimes or that fail to investigate reports of sexual assault on their campuses. Senator Barnes notes that many of the same concerns for student safety are reflected in the proposed federal law, and that it is important that New Jersey tackles the problem of sexual assault at our college campuses as well.