Hinds: Mass Senate passes legislation to curb college campus sexual violence

Senator Hinds at "Talking Criminal Justice Reform with Hinds and Barrett" at the Water Street Grille, Williamstown, October 30; photo by Jason Velázquez.

Senator Hinds at “Talking Criminal Justice Reform with Hinds and Barrett” at the Water Street Grille, Williamstown, October 30; photo by Jason Velázquez.

(from information included in submitted press release)

BOSTON — State Senator Adam G. Hinds (D- Pittsfield) announces that yesterday the Massachusetts Senate took strong action to prevent sexual violence on college campuses by passing comprehensive legislation to establish state-level policies for all higher education institutions in the Commonwealth. The legislation was engrossed with a unanimous 39-0 vote.

S. 2191, An Act relative to sexual violence on higher education campuses, was filed by Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) who serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. It reflects a collaborative approach by college officials, advocacy groups, students and policymakers to address the issue of on-campus sexual assaults.

With the U.S. Department of Education’s recent revocation of the Obama Administration’s 2011 guidance on college sexual assault, the legislation ensures that fair procedures and appropriate services are in place at higher education institutions across Massachusetts for both the reporting party and the accused.

According to the 2015 climate survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, 23% of female undergraduate student respondents reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation. Despite these statistics, 95% to 72% of these incidents of sexual violence went unreported. This legislation aims to encourage more students to come forward by ensuring that fair procedures and appropriate services are in place not only for the reporting party but also the accused.

This bill requires all students and staff to receive mandatory annual sexual violence prevention and awareness programming as well as be notified, via email and on the school website, of the campus policies including information on the resources available to sexual assault victims both on and off-campus and of the rights of the accused and the alleged victim.

To help decrease the barriers that discourage students from reporting sexual violence, the bill also requires schools to designate a confidential resource advisor. When requested by the reporting party, the confidential resource advisor shall provide information on reporting options along with the consequences of each of the options, available counseling and medical services, and coordinate with the schools to arrange academic accommodations and interim measures, such as changing dorms.

Because the lack of training of campus staff involved in sexual assault investigations can lead to negative results and experiences for the accused and victims, this legislation requires that the staff responsible for participating in disciplinary proceedings will receive appropriate training to make sure they are knowledgeable about how to best approach these incidents.

Moreover, in an effort to promote increased coordination with outside resources and services, the bill requires schools to establish a memorandum of understanding with sexual assault crisis centers, as well as develop policies and procedures with local law enforcement that comply with all applicable confidentiality and privacy laws. The bill would also establish a campus safety advisor at the Department of Higher Education to advance state-wide campus safety initiatives.

In 2016, the Department of Higher Education conducted a comprehensive study of on-campus safety and violence. The report provides many recommendations that further justify provisions of this legislation.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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