Editorial: Proposed Conn. bill poised to help college sexual assault victims
In an optimistic turn of events, the state House of Representatives unanimously (144-0) voted to pass new legislation that will offer further support and prevention for sexual assault victims on Connecticut college and university campuses. Every woman in the general assembly had co-sponsored the bill, which was created as a response to the Title IX complaint. Representative Mae Flexer said of the matter, according to CT Mirror, "We also have this piece of legislation before us today because of the brave current and former students at the University of Connecticut who came forward last fall and told their stories. I want to thank them for bringing this issue to the forefront once again and helping us get to this day in the House of Representatives."
The Title IX complaint had been filed on behalf of several alumni and current students of UConn who felt the response of the administration to their sexual assault cases was insufficient. It also was in line with a similar cultural theme of college campuses; over the past five years, 7,166 complaints have found their way to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
The legislation offers many improvements to the current situation for sexual assault prevention and aftermath. Victims will now have access to free mental health care after they report their assaults. Currently, Counseling and Mental Health Services at UConn is not free for any students requiring insurance and often leaving additional costs to be paid out of pocket if insurance cannot cover the full amount. Further requirements have been placed on the university such as offering annual prevention and awareness programs for all students, first responders, police and employees with a focus on bystander training, providing a clear document with information regarding their rights to press charges and require disciplinary action. Universities have also been required to enter into relationships with off-campus shelters and agencies that support domestic violence and sexual assault victims so that free services may be provided to students. They are also now expected to submit an annual report to the state which includes the number of prevention programs and their descriptions, assault charges and cases.
In summary, the goal is to increase prevention while also offering a compassionate response to victims. A larger change is also the goal of this bill, as Rep. Roberta Willis, chairwoman of the House Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said to CBS Connecticut, "Culture change must occur on campus, and this bill is a move to change the present environment." The bill still needs to be passed in the state senate, though it is expected to do so. Governor Dan Malloy has not yet specifically come out in support of the bill, though his office gave a statement regarding his commitment to sexual assault prevention.
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