By Linda Conner Lambeck
HARTFORD — A bipartisan group of women legislators is pushing a bill that seeks to strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault and violence on campus.
“As women of the House and Senate, we are committed, determined and united to take action to address sexual violence on our campuses,” state Rep.Roberta Willis, co-chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said at a news conference to announce the proposed legislation.
Willis said that while the focus two years ago was on prevention and requiring policies at every college, this year the focus is about response.
“We are here before the legislative session begins to convey to students, families, the college community and the public that this is serious business and we are not waiting to act,” said Willis, a Democrat and Lakeville resident.
The proposal would require colleges to provide the victims of sexual assault with immediate information on their rights and options, and allow a victim to report an assault anonymously. It also requires colleges to establish sexual response teams and to partner with local sexual-assault service providers.
The bill was raised Thursday by the higher education committee, and a hearing is set for Feb. 11. Willis called it a priority.
If approved, colleges would be required to report annually to the Legislature concerning sexual-assault policies, number of assaults and provide additional information to demonstrate transparency to lawmakers and the public.
The new proposal was spurred in part by charges leveled against the University of Connecticut by several current and former students who said they were victims of sexual assault. The women, who have filed a federal Title IX complaint against UConn, said university officials failed to protect them after they reported the crimes.
Elizabeth Conklin, Title IX coordinator at UConn, said Thursday the university without question supports the legislative intent and promised to work with committee members on the effort.
The bill would strengthen law by broadening the scope of inquiry into incidents, improving reporting, strengthening training and holding college administrators accountable for what takes place on their campuses, said Teresa C. Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. The Legislature founded the commission in 1973 to help eliminate sexual discrimination in Connecticut.
“It’s a timely response and shows that our government officials were listening to the voices of women who spoke at the public hearings on this matter,” Younger said.
Statistically, one in four women are likely to be sexually assaulted over the course of their college careers, Younger said.