(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainiei Huttle, Pamela Lampitt, Joe Lagana, Raj Mukherji, Annette Quijano, Joe Danielsen and Benjie Wimberly to better equip New Jersey colleges and universities to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on campus received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk.
The 2014 report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault revealed that one in five college students experiences sexual assault during their college career. Even more staggering, the ACLU estimates that 95 percent of U.S. campus rapes go unreported.
"College sexual assault has become far too common," said Vainieri Huttle (D- Bergen). "Rape should never be the norm. The only way to prevent sexual assault is to change the culture on campus and to do that we need support from the entire higher education community."
"Many sexual assault cases go unreported, leaving the victim to deal with the trauma alone and the attacker free to strike again," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "If we want victims of sexual assault to report these crimes and prevent others from becoming another statistic, then we have to change the culture that is discouraging victims, whether intentionally or inadvertently, from speaking up and seeking justice."
"As a father of two young girls, it is disheartening to read these statistics and know that many victims of sexual assault will remain silent because they don't trust school higher-ups to take action," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Students should not only feel safe on campus, but should know that if they are ever faced with such an unfortunate situation, the school response will be swift, fair and appropriate."
"Campus sexual assault is on the rise, and scarier still, advocates say the numbers don't tell the whole story since many assaults go unreported," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Rape victims should never carry that burden alone. We must make changes so sexual assault victims feel empowered to come forward, and lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure school officials are properly equipped to respond."
"For many students, college is their first venture into the real world. How sad that according to statistics, many of them will fall victims to sexual violence while in school," said Quijano (D-Union). "We must work to not only change the current culture so victims feel comfortable reporting the abuse, but also prevention so that in the future, these assaults become the exception and not the norm."
"There are many reasons why a student who has been victimized chooses not to come forward. A callous response to abuse claims from school officials should not be one of them," said Danilesen (D-Somerset/Middlesex). "The statistics are alarming. If we are serious about tackling campus sexual assault, then we must have an honest conversation about what our schools are not doing, and make the changes necessary so that campus sexual assault doesn't become a part of the college experience."
"The statistics on campus sexual assault are every parent's nightmare. The fact that many victims are victimized all over again by the very entities charged with protecting them is deplorable," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "It is crucial that we examine current policies at our colleges and universities and make the changes needed to help prevent campus sexual assault, and encourage those who have been victimized to come forward without fear that they will be stonewalled."
The bill (A-4156) would establish a task force to study and make recommendations concerning sexual assault occurring on the campuses of institutions of higher education in the state.
The task force would be comprised of the following 12 members: the Secretary of Higher Education, the Attorney General, and the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, or their designees; five members appointed by the Governor, including a representative of the state colleges and universities, a representative of the public research universities, a representative of the county colleges, a representative of the independent colleges and universities, and a representative of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault; and four public members to be appointed by the Senate president, the Assembly speaker, the Senate majority leader, and the Assembly minority leader. The public members would have to include at least one individual who is a campus sexual assault survivor.
The task force would study and evaluate current policies and practices concerning campus sexual assault, identify problems and areas for improvement, and make recommendations concerning campus sexual assault prevention, response and awareness. More specifically, the task force would:
- gather information from the public institutions of higher education and from a sample of independent institutions of higher education in the state regarding their policies and procedures for addressing campus sexual assault, and review and evaluate those policies and procedures;
- review current New Jersey and federal laws regarding campus sexual assault;
- review and evaluate existing research and literature, including any national best practices, professional standards, or guidelines, regarding the prevention of, and response to, incidents of campus sexual assault; and
- consult with, and evaluate testimony from, campus sexual assault survivors and advocates who provide support services to campus sexual assault survivors.
In addition, the task force would have to develop and issue recommendations and guidelines regarding campus sexual assault prevention and awareness, and regarding protocols for responding to reports of campus sexual assault and providing victim support services. The task force would have to issue a final report to the governor and the Legislature within one year of its organization, which contains the task force's findings and recommendations concerning campus sexual assault.
The bill was approved 38-0 by the Senate on Thursday, and 78-0 by the Assembly in June.