By LISA CAPOBIANCO
For the majority of women, becoming a victim of rape and sexual assault happens even before they hit age 24. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 80 percent of female victims were raped before age 25. On college campuses, one in five women has experienced sexual assault.
The state of Connecticut has responded to these statistics with recent legislation that passed unanimously in the Senate and House of Representatives—an act that strengthens sexual assault prevention and response procedures on college campuses statewide. Public Act 14-11, “An Act Concerning Sexual Assault, Stalking and Intimate Partner Violence on Campus,” requires colleges to offer services to victims, to institute sexual assault policy and to report incidents to the Connecticut General Assembly. The law takes effect July 1.
“I think it’s great that attention is being made to the issue—it’s a serious issue,” said David England, the Dean of Institutional Effectiveness at Tunxis Community College.
Under the new law, all college campuses must immediately give written notification to each victim about his or her rights and options under the school’s policy and to permit anonymous reporting, stated a press release from Governor Dannel Malloy’s office. The law also requires colleges to develop a campus resource team to review their policies and suggest protocols for offering support and services to students and staff members who report being victims as well as education requirements for the team. Besides additional educational requirements for each institution’s Title IX coordinator and special police force or campus safety employees, the law requires colleges to report annually to the General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee about their policies, prevention and awareness programs as well as campaigns, stated the release.
“Our students should feel safe on our college campuses and universities and if that is not the case, we need to ensure we are doing all we can to protect them and prevent future acts of violence,” said Malloy in the release. “I am proud that Connecticut is leading the nation in the implementation of strict legislation that will force change.”
For college campuses in the local area, the new legislation means enhancing the policies they already have in place while planning more programming and training to raise more awareness.
“We’ll provide some sort of training,” said England. “We’re not sure what form it is going to take yet.”
“We will increase our training and the way we deliver training,” added Chief Diversity Officer Rosa Rodriguez of Central Connecticut State University. “We need to do more educational, more awareness programs.”
Cindy Clark, the associate dean for Student Services and Title IX Coordinator of Lincoln College of New England in Southington, said the campus already has a Sexual Assault Response Team that provides grievance procedures and resources for victims. There is also a Title IX committee that handles compliance updates on all policies and procedures, reported Clark.
Clark said several staff members will be trained to become certified investigators for sexual assault violations on campus, and more programs will be available to staff members and students in response to the new legislation.
“The policies we currently have in place regarding non-discrimination, sexual assault and sexual misconduct are currently being revised, which is protocol for all of our policies every year,” said Clark, adding the campus encourages victims of sexual assault to report to the Title IX coordinator. “We will be implementing primary prevention and awareness programs for faculty, staff and students as well.”
Rodriguez said it is critical the state addressed the issue of sexual assault. In response to the new legislation, CCSU also will implement additional training, especially when confronting the challenge of becoming a bystander, reported Rodriguez.
“Most of us will be bystanders—that is a critical role,” said Rodriguez. “When we see something, we have to say something—we have a responsibility as observers.”
Currently, CCSU encourages students to respond in a number of ways if they become victims of sexual assault, such as alerting a residence hall director, calling the local Sexual Assault Crisis Center or the Women’s Center. They also are encouraged to seek medical care and counseling after the incident. The campus also requires new students, faculty and staff members to undergo an online training course that addresses sexual assault.
“Ultimately, it’s the victim’s decisions on how they want to proceed,” said Rodriguez. “They need to know their power can be restored.”
This past semester, CCSU also raised more awareness about dating violence through the Red Flag Campaign, which was organized by the Office of Diversity & Equity and the Women’s Center. Sponsored by several student and administrative groups, the campaign featured several hundred small, red flags scattered on campus to encourage individuals to “speak up” when they see red flags of dating violence.
Rodriguez said the message of the campaign was successful, and would like to continue the Red Flag Campaign in the fall. Looking ahead to the next school year, Rodriguez added she also hopes to have a training program for men, who are also victims of sexual assault.
“We can’t just see men as perpetrators,” said Rodriguez. “There is an increase in victims that are men.”