TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale that would impose a fine on any institution of higher education that fails to appropriately respond to a student’s allegation of sexual assault by another student was approved by the Senate Higher Education Committee today.
“I hear from and meet with victims frequently, and while every experience is unique, you start to notice common themes. Victims are doubted before they are believed. Victims are blamed before they are helped,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “I want to ensure that New Jersey continues moving forward in creating a fair system that works for victims.”
The bill, S-486, would require the Secretary of Higher Education to impose a penalty of $10,000 against an institution of higher education in the event that the secretary determines that the institution failed to appropriately respond to and investigate an allegation of sexual assault made by a student enrolled in the institution against another student, and to impose appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrator if the allegation is substantiated.
In 2016, there were 138 reported rapes at New Jersey four-year colleges and universities — a 24 percent increase over the previous year. Some attribute this increase due to stepped up efforts to encourage students to report sexual assaults on campus. The purpose of the bill is to reinforce the importance of reporting all forms of sexual violence to the proper authorities in a timely manner by all institutions of higher education. By creating significant monetary consequences, institutions of higher education would be that more inclined to report incidents of sexual violence.
“I know many institutions of higher education are doing diligent work to ensure that they have processes in place that protect victims and make sure there is a clear path towards justice,” said Senator Vitale. “But I think we all know the system is not yet perfect, and this legislation is an attempt to further create accountability for our colleges and universities.”
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 5-0 and now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.