State Senator Calls for Campus Sexual Assault Policy Reform

By Jonathan Zhou, Epoch Times
October 9, 2014 7:15 pm Last Updated: October 9, 2014 7:16 pm

New York state Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle released a report Wednesday making legislative recommendations for curbing sexual assault on college campuses, which were made to complement the affirmative consent policy Gov. Cuomo proposed for SUNY earlier this month. 

A roundtable on campus sexual assault that LaValle, chairman of the senate Higher Education Committee, had with advocates, other lawmakers, and college administrators in May was the impetus for the report, which proposed reforms applicable to all colleges in New York, both public and private. 

The report asserts that the current enforcement of Title IX—the federal gender nondiscrimination statute, which also addresses sexual harassment—by the Office of Civil Rights were “not enough,” pointing out that fewer than 1 in 10 complaints filed with the office led an official change in campus policies, thus requiring action by the state government. 

LaValle called for a more comprehensive set of reform than the governor, whose SUNY recommendations consisted of a standardization of the “yes means yes” definition of consent, immunity for sexual assault witnesses guilty of underage drinking, and additional training for campus responders to sexual assault. 

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Specifically, LaValle mentions the need for a codification of “dating violence” into the state’s sexual assault law, which the Center for Disease Control defines as including not only physical and sexual assault, but also “psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship” such as “name calling, shaming, bullying, and embarrassing on purpose.” 

The report also recommends centralizing the adjudication of campus rape allegations by stripping away the right of athletic departments or fraternities and sororities to have a separate disciplinary process. The disciplinary panel should also receive additional training before serving on the board, the report said. 

More funding should go toward providing Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners on campuses, the report said, and hotlines and confidential reporting of sexual assault victims should be expanded. 

Many of the report’s recommendations overlap with the resolution proposed by Cuomo and passed by SUNY’s board of trustees, including the call for “campus climate” surveys on students’ attitude on sexual assault, orientation for new students aimed to prevent sexual assault, and a uniform definition of consent. 

The report diverged from the SUNY resolution in their treatment of alcohol. Whereas Cuomo recommended that campuses loosen their enforcement of underage drinking prohibitions to compel more testimony for witnesses, LaValle said that colleges should seek to reduce underage drinking because most college sexual assault cases involved underclassmen illegally using alcohol.