October 17, 2017: State Representatives Lori Ehrlich and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Chairs of the Sexual Assault Working Group, release statement on recent incidents related to sexual assault and harassment
BOSTON, MA —As Chairs of the Women’s Caucus Sexual Assault Working Group, we call on all men and women in the Commonwealth to rally together to start the cultural shift of treating women with dignity and respect.
The recent examples of men abusing their positions of power to sexually harass and assault women are sickening, are far too common and been happening for far too long. When you have men in power exhibiting, accepting, and promoting predatory behavior, it not only encourages others to act the same, but teaches children that such behavior is acceptable. We must engage in conversation that challenges these norms and weakens the power of those who prey on women.
It is time that we shy away from our unconscious biases. It is time we believe the victims and elevate the voices that are too commonly ignored. It should not take a lawsuit or a famous actress for the general public to believe the prevalence of sexual harassment.
This week, millions of women shared their personal stories of sexual assault and harassment in the #metoo movement on social media. The fact that by Monday afternoon the hashtag had been used half a million times on twitter alone affirms the magnitude of the problem. However, these women should not have to out themselves as survivors in order for systemic change to occur.
We formed the Sexual Assault Working Group at the end of 2016 to facilitate discussions around these very issues. We are proud to support two bills that would have a direct effect on the sexual assault epidemic on higher education campuses. The first bill, H.2998, An Act creating a sexual assault climate survey for Massachusetts colleges and universities establishes a campus climate survey that all institutions of higher learning would administer anonymously to gain feedback from students on the sexual violence epidemic. These responses would help institutions understand the barriers to resources, and also help institutions determine best practices to eliminate sexual violence.
The second bill, H.632, An Act relative to sexual violence on higher education campuses is aimed at standardizing disciplinary processes to help decrease the barriers that discourage students from reporting sexual violence incidents. The bill ensures that all students and employees at colleges and universities are aware of their school’s policies around sexual assault, and that survivors know what resources are available to them. There is also mandatory sexual violence and stalking prevention training component to H.632 to stop incidents before the harm is done.
These bills are especially important given the recent rollback of the Title IX protections put in place by the Obama administration, which directed schools to take immediate action to investigate each reported incident, provide procedures and the same appeal rights for both the accuser and accused, and use the preponderance of the evidence standard to resolve complaints.
It is our hope that Massachusetts will lead the way in passing these two pieces of legislation to protect the thousands of students who attend our excellent higher education institutions in the Commonwealth.
These two bills are specific in addressing sexual violence on higher education campuses, but sexual violence goes well beyond college campuses. As the women of the #metoo movement, Harvey Weinstein’s victims, and all the women who have ever shared their stories have demonstrated, sexual violence is a problem that is prevalent in all areas of society. While these bills cannot alone change behavior, their passage will be positive steps in fighting gendered systemic injustice.