Law takes aim at sexual assaults on college campuses

David Matthau, NJ1015

Legislation has been signed into law that aims to prevent sexual assaults on New Jersey college campuses and improve how colleges respond when these incidents take place.

The new law calls for the creation of a 12-person task force that will be charged with studying and evaluating current policies and practices in place at colleges and universities. The task force will also be recommending how to prevent sexual assaults, improve response and generate better awareness about the issue.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, (D-Bergen), one of the prime sponsors, says the issue must be addressed.

“It has become far too common on college campuses, and I believe that rape obviously should never be the norm – the only way to prevent sexual assault is to start to change the culture on campus,” she said.

Huttle says to do that, we need support from the entire higher education community and the Task Force will help include all parties so the next step can be taken.

“We should be able to feel safe on campus and so if this does happen we need the school to respond in a manner that is appropriate,” she said.

Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, (D-Camden/Burlington) another prime sponsor, agrees.

“We need to better understand where sexual violence is happening and how it’s happening  to be able to create a safer, better environment on campus,” she said. “One-in-5 young women are sexually violated during the period of time they’re on our college campuses, and many of them do not report it. We need to educate all of our students about what is sexual violence and what is worthy of being communicated to a higher level.”

According to Lampitt, we also need to make sure when it is communicated something will be done about it, and the report is not simply put in a folder and filed away.

“We need our university public safety departments to work hand in hand with the local municipal public safety department so follow up is being done,” she said.

Lampitt said students must understand that “if this happens to you what do you do, if this happens to you what questions should you be asked, what should you be asking for to be done.”

The task force will be comprised of 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. In addition, four public members will be appointed by the Senate president, the Assembly speaker, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly minority leader. The public members will include at least one individual who is a campus sexual assault survivor.

The original legislation was approved 38-0 by the Senate two months ago, and 78-0 by the Assembly in June.