Guest Column: Massachusetts Can Help End Campus Violence
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Sexual assault on college campuses is a national public health crisis. Statistics show that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college nationally. During their time at college, 43 percent of women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors and 13 percent of women report being stalked.
To put things in perspective in our state, more than a half a million students are enrolled in a Massachusetts institution of higher education. In 2014, there were 283 reports of rape on Massachusetts campuses, yet only 7 percent of rapes were reported to school officials. The actual number of incidents is likely much higher. What can we do about this?
The lack of sexual violence education and prevention throughout students’ primary education contributes to the large number of sexual violence incidents on higher education campuses. We must give these institutions the tools to assist their students, provide resources to victims, and have a clear understanding of the policies and reports of sexual violence on all campuses. In our current climate where Title IX policies are being rolled back by the federal administration, and the discussion of gender-based violence is prevalent in mainstream media, we in Massachusetts are in a position to secure the safety and well-being for our students.
Currently, all public and private higher education institutions must have a campus security policy. I filed House Bill 632, "An Act relative to sexual violence on campus" to take these policies further and require all institutions of higher education in Massachusetts to create and communicate policy on sexual and gender-based violence. This bill would also require schools to include trauma-informed policies on dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking that are developed in consultation with the Title IX coordinator. Providing students with the details on how to report an incident, where to seek medical treatment and counseling and how to request protective measures will create a safer environment for victims and all students.
The act also requires awareness and prevention programming through training for students, faculty, and staff. Furthermore, relationships will be established with local rape crisis centers and domestic violence programs. These policies and resources, along with sexual violence data, will be made publicly available on the campus website — which is important from a safety and consumer perspective. If a student or parents can easily look up which campus has the best dorm rooms, they should also be able to access statistics on campus safety and sexual violence.
One of the most important aspects of the bill is the outline of how proceedings shall be conducted when an incident of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking is reported. Both the reporting party and responding party are given equal rights, notices and opportunity for representation throughout the proceeding. These procedures mirror those that were outlined in the federal Dear Colleague Letter of 2014 that was recently rescinded by the current Trump administration. This section helps clarify proceedings for higher institutions of learning as well as protecting the rights of both parties.
We have the ability to tackle this crisis of sexual assault at our colleges head on. No student should ever lose their opportunity for an education due to harassment, intimidation, violence, or an environment that allows these behaviors.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, represents the 3rd Berkshire District.
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