Written by 4:23 pm Opinions

Every Voice Counts: Students Must Take Legislative Action Against Campus Sexual Violence

This article was co-written by Zoe Bertone (’22 at Connecticut College), Alex Dahlem (Trinity College), Alison Hagani (Brandeis University) and Lily James (Mount Holyoke College). Photo courtesy of Sophia Angele-Kuehn. 

Content Warning: This Op-Ed includes topics surrounding sexual violence and institutional violence.

Students are no stranger to alarming rates of campus sexual violence. National statistics repeatedly show that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted in college, with these rates even higher for students of intersecting marginalized identities. Colleges in Connecticut are not exempted from these national trends. Data reported under the Clery Act found that there were 436 reported cases of campus sexual violence in Connecticut in 2018.  National statistics estimate that more than 90% of sexual assaults go unreported, revealing incongruence between Clery Act data and the reality of sexual violence on college campuses. Even worse, available data fails to encapsulate the significant repercussions of campus sexual violence and masks the broad impact that it has on the more than 200,000 total students in Connecticut.

For many, these statistics are not merely numbers; they represent the living experiences of students across the state. Given the commonplace frequency of sexual violence, every student is affected by a campus culture of violence — whether directly or through a friend or peer. This not only conveys the necessity of reform efforts, but also the importance of student voices. As high rates of violence persist, students can harness profound community power to combat sexual violence or mitigate its repercussions, including bystander intervention or by supporting impacted students. However, change does not just occur on a case-by-case basis — institutional policies can help streamline progress. Students can and must lead this charge.

Luckily, Connecticut students have an easy avenue to advocate for greater protections for students and survivors in the state. In the 2019-2020 legislative season, SB-19 was filed in the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Higher Education. Specifically, SB-19 requires all Connecticut institutions of higher education to administer campus climate surveys every four years to collect anonymous data about sexual violence on their respective campuses. Additionally, the legislation requires universities to adopt an amnesty policy to ensure that students who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs when impacted by violence are not penalized. SB-19’s campus climate surveys better equip universities with the information needed to combat the epidemic on their campus, while the amnesty policy ensures students feel safe to pursue protections and justice. These provisions will go a long way in further protecting students from campus sexual violence. 

The common sense importance of SB-19 is reflected through its widespread support from researchers, public officials, university stakeholders, and advocates across the state. Legislative support crossed both chambers of government and parties. This was complemented by support from the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the ACLU of Connecticut, and other critical state organizations. However, most importantly, this bill is embraced by those directly impacted by sexual violence on campus: students. In the past year, students from across the state have come together to create a Connecticut chapter of the Every Voice Coalition, an all-volunteer, student- and survivor-led organization to combat sexual violence. Through Every Voice’s advocacy efforts, students helped file SB-19, wrote numerous letters and emails in support, called legislative offices, and testified before the Joint Committee on Higher Education. While COVID-19 deterred the promising passage of SB-19 in the 2020 general legislative session, it is essential that Connecticut students continue to advocate for SB-19 in the next legislative session.

Students cannot afford to be complacent in violence prevention efforts. In addition to the high rates of sexual violence on college campuses, students across the country will also now be contending with U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ new reporting process for allegations of sexual violence. Rather than ensuring progress and reform, DeVos’ new Title IX regulations fail to ensure the safety of those impacted by sexual violence. These regulations make legislation like SB-19 even more important. 

As students, we are frustrated with the cycle of violence on college campuses and institutional inaction. Connecticut students deserve more. SB-19 represents a critical step forward for student safety in Connecticut. Students must be on the front lines of this fight in order to ensure our voices are heard: we deserve to be free from violence on campuses.

To learn more about the Every Voice Coalition and ways to get involved, please email [email protected]. Sign the Every Voice petition here

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