House Passes Sexual Assault Climate Surveys

My bill mandating sexual assault climate surveys for every college and university in Massachusetts unanimously passed the House of Representatives on July 25th. H.4810 now heads to the State Senate for final legislative approval before it reaches the Governor’s desk for a signature.

Sexual Assault Climate Surveys Floor Speech

 
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Thank you Mr. Speaker, and through you to the members:

Let me begin by thanking you for your solidarity throughout this process, and thanking both the Gentleman from South Hadley and the Gentleman from Jamaica Plain for their thoughtful consideration and engagement with this bill. It is to their credit, and that of the numerous advocate and student organizations like Every Voice, Jane Doe, BARCC, and Know Your IX, that we can come together today in support of legislation to protect Massachusetts college students.

H.4159, An Act requiring sexual misconduct climate surveys at institutions of higher education, was filed as the first step in combatting the epidemic of sexual violence and harassment on college campuses in America.

Sexual assault climate surveys generate school-specific data on the nature and prevalence of gender-based violence within a school community, as well as data on the attitudes and perceptions about gender-based violence among different student groups. In fact, we in the House approved climate surveys this year for ourselves as part of our new policies on harassment.

What we do know about sexual violence on campus is ver limited and heartbreaking. A research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice found that 1 in 4 college women and 1 in 16 college men will be the victims of an attempted or completed rape during their years at college and more than one-third of women at colleges will experience sexual harassment. In 2014, MIT was one of the first schools in Massachusetts to implement a campus climate survey, and found that 17 percent of female students had been assaulted while enrolled.

But there is a reason why this has been called a “Silent Epidemic” by the American Medical Association – only 12 percent of college student survivors report their assault to the police. The lack of reporting remains a significant obstacle to finding solutions and protecting students.

We know that something must be done, and to do so we must start by understanding the full extent of the problem not only on one campus, but on every campus across Massachusetts. Already, 26 schools in the Commonwealth have led the way by implementing climate surveys – schools large and small, representing over 40,000 students, from Clark to Harvard to Salem State. This bill mandates that every institution of higher education take part.

Every campus is different in regards to the prevalence and nature of sexual violence -- but what is true of all of them is that all students deserve a safe place to learn, study, and grow, as well as transparency from school administrations about sexual violence. If data on college graduate employment rates and results from food quality surveys are readily available, information regarding the campus climate on sexual violence should be too.

This bill begins by creating a 21-member task force representing students, advocates, the legislature, Executive branch, law enforcement, and the higher education community, as well as experts in survey design. The task force will craft a cutting-edge model sexual assault climate survey made available at no cost to every institution of higher education in Massachusetts by the Commissioner of Higher Education, which they may use or substitute with their own if approved by the Commissioner. The surveys will be done every other year, with results posted online by each school.

Fundamentally, what we are facing here is a public health crisis. In times such as these, when the challenges we face are growing, we in Massachusetts should take a leadership role in finding solutions. This is an important vote for the House to take, not only showing that we are serious about addressing this public health issue, but that as a legislature we care about the safety and well-being of our students.

I want to again thank you Mr. Speaker, your staff, in particular Ms. Michele Lisio and Ms. Whitney Ferguson, who worked so hard on this bill. I am also grateful for hard work and determination of my own staff, especially Preyel Patel, the Women’s Caucus, and the Gentlelady from Pittsfield.

I also must tip my hat to the students who organized as Every Voice and courageously shared their stories with us. These students understand what a difference this policy will make on their campuses and that they are engaged so effectively with us gives me great hope for the future.

 
Preyel Patel