Legislation proposed by a group of current and former students to prevent sexual assault and support survivors on college campuses was defeated by Maine colleges and universities at a hearing on Tuesday.
State-funded social service organizations, including the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, and Pine Tree Legal Assistance, supported many aspects of the bill, but raised concerns about the legality of certain sections of federal law.
Although surprised by the refusal during the hearing before the Legislative Assembly’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, Lily James, executive director of Every Voice Coalition, a youth-led group that passed similar legislation in five states, said it was part of the legislative process and she is excited to continue working with stakeholders.
“Estimates show, as you’ve heard, that one in 10 students will experience sexual violence while in college,” James said, noting that this means that about 7,000 students currently enrolled in colleges of Maine have or will experience sexual violence.
She said the Sexual Assault Prevention Bill will help provide students with the support they desperately need following these traumatic events.
If passed, Act respecting sexual misconduct on college campuses would provide consistent data on cases of sexual violence on college campuses across the state, strengthen existing methods of preventing sexual assault, and provide additional resources for survivors. It would also require, among other things, that colleges report known cases of sexual violence to the state and designate counselors who can provide support to students without any obligation to pass on what they hear to the school.
The bill is sponsored by Senate Speaker Troy Jackson, who worked with the Every Voice Coalition, a nonprofit working to end sexual violence on college campuses by passing student-drafted legislation and focused on survivors of sexual assault.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, 24.6% of female undergraduates and 6.8% of male undergraduates experience sexual assault.
Opponents said they realize sexual violence is rampant on college campuses and they are working to do better, but the bill is unnecessary, duplicates current policy and possibly harmful.
Those who spoke against the bill, including representatives from the University of Maine school system, the Maine Community College System and the Maine Independent Colleges Association, which includes Bowdoin, Bates Colby and eight other private colleges in state, said creating another process for reporting sexual assault and accessing resources would further complicate an often confusing process and overwhelm students, perhaps making them less likely to seek help in the first place.
Many opponents also said they are already doing many of the things the bill suggests, including working with state-funded social services and tracking sexual assault cases.
Amie Parker, equal opportunity and Title IX coordinator for the University of Maine system, said the bill “makes it look like we’re not already providing support.”
But the authors of the bill, including some students and recent graduates, say that while institutions have support systems in place, they are far from sufficient.
And that’s not just the case in Maine, Every Voice’s James said. James, who attended the University of Massachusetts and now lives in Maine, said she’s spoken with thousands of students in Maine and the twelve states she’s worked in, and there’s a feeling constant among students that there is a lack of support at the university. campuses and in university communities for victims of sexual violence.
While opponents of the bill have said they believe creating a process similar to the sexual assault provisions of Title IX to seek support and resources after being sexually assaulted would be detrimental to students, James said. said the opposite was true, that it would empower students by giving them more choices.
“We need to meet the needs of 100% of surviving students,” James said. “It’s not enough to have just one way to do it.”
CONFIDENTIALITY A WAITING POINT
A sticking point in Tuesday’s hearing was the legality of appointing counselors who won’t have to report assault survivors’ stories to the institution.
Under Title IX and the Clery Act, the federal law governing campus safety and crime reporting, employees who discover sexual misconduct must report it to the institution. The legality of creating confidential resource officers who are not required to report school sexual misconduct is expected to be discussed at the next working session on the bill on March 14.
Similar legislation passed in New Hampshire and Massachusetts included provisions creating confidential resource officers, James said.
Those who spoke against the bill said there were many elements they were already practicing and some they were willing to adopt, including granting students who report sexual violence immunity from penalties for violations such as underage drinking, working with state-funded social services, providing additional training for those who help students navigate reporting procedures and investigate students to learn more about sexual assault cases.
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