WEST HARTFORD, Conn. ― Colleges in Connecticut are supporting federal legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal that would impose new rules for how schools handle sexual assaults.
Representatives from Connecticut College, Fairfield University and Southern Connecticut State University were on hand Friday for a news conference at the University of Hartford, the site of the first of seven roundtables Blumenthal held this year on college campuses across the state to gather input on the legislation, including from assault victims.
“We have a lot to do,” said Thomas Pellegrino, vice president for student affairs at Fairfield. “This is a problem that has been on campuses for decades.”
Under the Senate bill, colleges and universities would be required to identify confidential advisers help sexual assault victims. Such advisers would coordinate support services, provide information about victims’ options for reporting the assault and provide guidance to victims who decide they want to report their accusations to authorities. As part of an effort to encourage students to report assaults, the bill prevents schools for sanctioning students who may have violated underage drinking laws.
The legislation also requires minimum training standards for on-campus staff, not just new hires, on how to handle sexual assaults. All schools would also have to enter into formal agreements with local law enforcement agencies, making it easier to share information and delineate responsibilities.
Additionally, the bill requires that students at every university in the U.S. be surveyed about their experiences regarding sexual assault. Those schools that don’t comply with certain requirements of the proposed legislation could face penalties of up to 1 percent of an institution’s operating budget.
Blumenthal said bipartisan support is building for proposal. There are four Republican co-sponsors of the bill, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Blumenthal said he spoke with fellow senators Thursday night and believes other Republicans and Democrats will soon sign on.
He’s hopeful hearings will be held in September and the bill could pass the Senate before the end of 2014. There are efforts to take up a similar bill in the House of Representatives.
In the meantime, now that legislation has been drafted, Blumenthal said he plans to revisit some of the Connecticut schools where he previously held roundtable discussions. He also plans to visit those where he hasn’t yet met with students, faculty and staff to discuss the problem of sexual violence on campuses.
“Some of the schools were not quite embracing and welcoming when we approached them,” said Blumenthal, adding how he hopes their attitude will be different now that a bill is ready.